VIFF Review: ‘The Curse of Willow Song’ highlights the bad side of Vancouver

The downtown east side of Vancouver is a ghetto. We don’t like to admit that, but it is. There are many issues, and there’s no easy conversation or solution, but the result is that there is a whole segment of the population that is challenged, exploited, and abandoned.

The Curse of Willow Song takes place in the downtown eastside of Vancouver and follows a recovering addict and ex-con as she tries to navigate life in single room occupancy housing, a difficult job market, and discrimination at every turn. It also follows the journey she takes as the latent supernatural powers within her.

The issue is that while one of these stories feels complete, the other one does not.

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The Curse of Willow Song is not a poorly made movie. It’s shot in black and white and features some good cinematography. Each of the actors involved is good, particularly Valerie Tian as Willow and Elfina Luk as her friend Dani. The effects, given the budget, are well executed as well.

Ultimately though, it is never apparent where Willow’s powers come from. There is one line in the middle where someone says she was weird when she was young and the implication that her previous heroin addiction had suppressed them, but in an effort to show without telling, the picture is left incomplete.

The story of Willow trying to navigate life in the downtown eastside is compelling though. I’ve never been in dire straights like Willow, but as a person who lived and worked in that neighbourhood for nearly a decade, I can attest to how the system is stacked against her as an ex-con, as a recovering addict, and as a woman. It’s a frustrating story but an important one that highlights some of the societal issues that our city faces.

It’s worth pointing out that The Curse of Willow Song has already won the Best BC Film award from this years Vancouver International Film Festival, so I am in the minority here. While I did not connect with this film, it’s entirely possible that at you will.


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