Based on Stevie Cameron’s bestselling novel, the adapted On the Farm (released in Canada as Unclaimed) is a dramatization chronicling Vancouver’s DTES missing women during serial killer Robert Pickton’s active years.
Using a combination of fictional and real characters, the film puts the women front and centre. It aims to refocus the narrative of real-life events, too often cast in Pickton’s shadow, to highlight the agency of the women living, and working in the DTES.
Main character Nikki Taylor represents an amalgamation of the women targeted by Robert William “Willie” Pickton (‘The Pig Farmer Killer’), one of Canada’s most prolific serial killers, active during 1995-2001. Nikki, a 22 year-old single mother, battling her own drug addiction, works as a prostitute in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside (DTES). She, along with DTES social worker Elaine Brooks, become allies to investigators in their hunt for Pickton, led by police officer Sinead McLeod and RCMP officer Jeff Keeley. Their investigation, despite the ever-growing list of missing women, is impeded by resistance from police and RCMP superiors, resistance which can only be read as an indifference towards the marginalized women of the DTES.
The fictional re-creation is framed by Nikki Taylor’s journey as a young single mother working as a prostitute, struggling with substance abuse, trying to get clean in order to return home to her son. Her efforts are compromised by the alarming number of unexplained disappearances of sex workers in her community. The disappearances are callously dismissed by police officials, thereby abandoning Nikki and her friends to the predations of a serial killer.
Concern is most acute at The Keep, a safe haven for the women of the DTES, headed by social worker Elaine Brooks. Elaine brings the dire situation to the attention of Vancouver Police Officer Sinead McLeod who is caught between the politics of her department and the desire to follow her instincts as women continue to disappear.
Public outcry builds after Elaine gets a reporter to break the story, creating the social pressure needed to force law enforcement to finally make a move. Sinead, to her and Elaine’s surprise, is teamed up with RCMP Officer, Sergeant Jeff Keeley, to lead a special joint task force, formed to investigate what is now an epidemic of missing women.
Sergeant Keeley, haunted by an unsolved Jane Doe case, feels there is a connection between his Jane Doe and Sinead’s missing women file. Fighting bureaucratic obstruction and a culture of complacency which has trickled down to the streets, McLeod and Keeley find their strongest allies in Nikki and Elaine. Together, they begin their desperate hunt for a serial killer before yet more photos are added to The Keep’s bulletin board of missing women gone.