Debs Howard

Debs Howard

Cranbrook actor hits the big screen

Debs Howards’ first feature — “The Evil In Us”— is premiering later this month

Barry Coulter

It’s been a busy year in the movie business for a Cranbrook actor.

Debs Howard, currently working in the Vancouver area, just finished acting in a Canadian independent feature film, a thriller called the “Evil In Us,” that is now being shopped at the prestigious Cannes Film Festival in France and will be premiering in Vancouver later this month.

“We were shooting for about a month, a month and a half, last summer,” Howard said. “So it’s been in post-production since last September.”

“The Evil In Us” is Howard’s first feature, though she does have another coming out this year — “Even Lambs Have Teeth,” directed by Terry Miles. “They’ve got a really good cast in it — I’m not one of the leads. One of the leads is from Los Angeles, and the other works a ton in Vancouver.”

But Howard plays the lead in “The Evil In Us.” When six school friends meet up for a fourth of July celebration on a remote island off the Washington coast, what they expect is a harmless weekend filled with fun and partying.

When one of them brings along some cocaine to amp up the good times, what they get is a mind bending trip filled with horror, chaos and murder. Unbeknownst to the friends, a sadistic, right wing terrorist organization has secretly funneled a new bio-active drug into the market disguised as cocaine. Anyone who consumes the drug is then exposed to a virus that causes fits of psychotic rage.

Only one girl, Brie (Howard), refuses to take the drug and she alone must fight to stay alive as everyone around her, including her fiancé, attempts to kill her. Her only hope may be a detective who is trying to unravel the mystery behind the terrorist plot. Trapped on the island, Brie must endure the unimaginable and survive a deadly game of cat and mouse.

“The Evil In Us” (Sandcastle Pictures) has been recently completed, and is ready for screening. The production team was leaving earlier this week for the Cannes Film Festival in France. Howard explained they were going to be screening a shorter film they’d produced earlier — “Demons in the Dark,”  a sort of test run for the “Evil In Us” feature. They will be taking the feature to Cannes as well, shopping it around to international distributors.

An intriguing detail that directly concerns Howard’s performance is that two different endings were filmed — and she doesn’t know which one will be used.

Getting to that point was a grind. Howard describes long, long days and nights on the set.

“It was crazy,” she said. “We were on set, sometimes from 16 to 18 hours. We had crazy days. We pulled a ton of all-nighters. One time I left my house at 2 in the afternoon, and got back at 11 the next morning, and had worked straight through.

“We were usually filming in Pitt Meadows and Port Coquitlam, in the rural areas, so it was a bit of a journey to get out there.”

Howard said the cabin used as the main set was also used previously in the second Twilight movie.

“We had lots of special effects make-up on set, prosthetics and tons and tons of fake blood. Luckily, I didn’t have to deal with it as much of the others did. We had things like red contact lenses — it was wild.”

But that’s the film industry for you. In spite of shooting in a cabin, there was little cabin fever, and the cast members all got along well — in fact became quite good friends.

“We all got along amazingly,” Howard said. “When you’re working and not sleeping for 18 hours tensions can run a little high. But there were no arguments, it was just our coping mechanism when things went wrong — a camera issue or a lighting issue, something out of our control — then we just got frustrated a little more quickly. But there were six of the main cast, and we all became really good friends. When you spend that much time with each other, you really have no choice.”

Howard graduated from Mt. Baker Secondary School in 2006, and then attended the Victoria Motion Picture School.

“I thought I would just give it a shot — I never really thought I could make a career out of acting, but it was always something I did growing up. I decided I’d give it a whirl.

“It’s been a crazy business. It’s such a roller coaster — you never know what’s coming next, which is the frightening thing, but also the exciting thing about it.

“You just have to dive in with both feet. Things having been going well for me so far, since I got back into it. I just hope they continue to go this way.”

“The Evil In Us” is an independent, non-union picture. Howard made the choice not to join the union at this time. Indy films and most commercials, she explained, work with non-union actors, and union membership would take her out of the running for productions like these.

“The union is a great idea if you’re booking major productions all the time, which I’m hopefully working up to. But at this point I want to be able to go out for everything that I can.”

“The Evil In Us” is more than a horror film,” Howard explained. It has depths and subtexts of a political and social nature.

“It has all the elements of a horror film — the gore, the jump scares, the set-up and stuff like that. But the storyline is so much more than that. It dives into politics and some controversial issues. The mainline throughout the story is much deeper than just the horror element.”

Howard said the writer/director, Jason William Lee, had the goal of not only giving viewers “a great cinematic adventure, but also make people think about what they see in the news.”

“The Evil In Us” will be premiering in Vancouver on May 24.

There is also a possibility, Howard said, of “The Evil In Us” screening in Cranbrook. Details will be posted in the Townsman when available.

With files from Internet Movie Data Base (imdb.com).