Hot on the heels of her celebrated sophomore feature Darken (2017) and its 11-part digital prequel series Darken: Before The Dark (2018), Canadian filmmaker Audrey Cummings has shifted from dark sci-fi fantasy to gritty action thriller with her third feature, She Never Died (2019), which screened at the Blood in the Snow Film Festival on Friday for its Toronto premiere.
Oluniké Adeliyi stars as Lacey, a homeless woman whose immortality comes with a curse: in order to sustain herself, she must feed on human beings. Thankfully, her condition also has some perks: any wounds that she sustains are healed miraculously quickly, allowing her to take one hell of a beating (which she does at numerous points throughout the film’s brisk 89-minute run-time). Much like the eponymous antihero of Showtime’s serial killer drama Dexter, Lacey lives her eternal life abiding by a loose moral code; when we first meet her at the beginning of the film, she is stalking a human trafficker with the intent of making him her next meal.
Human trafficking plays a major role in She Never Died, but, thankfully, the film does not devolve into blatant exploitation or sensationalism. The bad guys are Terrence and Meredith Ramender, a brother-and-sister team vividly brought to life by Noah Danby and Michelle Nolden. Together with their underlings, the two run a dark web operation out of an otherwise abandoned warehouse, offering depraved viewers the opportunity to purchase other people, watch victims play coerced games of Russian roulette, and, presumably, indulge in other deeply sickening forms of ‘entertainment.’
Lacey is not the only person to have noticed the existence of this dark operation. Nearing retirement and working the case on his own time, Detective Charles Godfrey (Peter MacNeill) has been keeping surveillance on the building—and, in the process, has become aware of Lacey herself. After Lacey’s attempted assassination of Terrance goes wrong, Godfrey proposes a deal: in exchange for shelter, Lacey will target a list of dangerous criminals compiled by Godfrey.
Lacey, naturally, agrees.
And, just as naturally, she encounters a complication. While picking off the first name on her list, she inadvertently saves Suzzie (Kiana Madeira), a complicated young woman destined for trafficking who becomes enamoured with the powerful, immortal woman who rescued her from an incomprehensibly grim fate (and who wouldn’t?). As Terrance and Meredith seek to track down Lacey in order to exploit her gifts for their online snuff shows, Lacey, Godfrey, and Suzzie are pulled into their treacherous web and must work together to take them down.
With She Never Died, Cummings displays a confident hand, ably stirring some welcome humour and decent action scenes into a gritty narrative, keep the film eminently watchable while still respecting the gravity of its subject matter. The actors offer stellar performances across the board, but Kiana Madeira is a particular delight; the young actor imbues her character with an irresistible streetwise joie-de-vivre and serves as an outstanding audience surrogate.
(Some information of note, but not necessary to enjoy the film: She Never Died serves as a gender-swapped remix of He Never Died (2015), which starred Henry Rollins as a cannibalistic antihero and was also written by screenwriter Jason Krawczyk.)
Since releasing her first feature film in 2014—the excellent babysitter horror film Berkshire County (AKA Tormented)—Cummings has become a prominent name to watch in Canadian cinema. Let’s hope that the rest of the world appreciates her as much as we do.
Check out Joe Lipsett’s interview with Audrey Cummings in Grim No. 5.