User ReviewsReview this title
Those of us that lived this story back in the early 1990's and the subsequent trial of Paul Bernardo and Karla Homolka can attest to the degree of disgust many felt at the crimes these two committed. The film is accurate in many respects as to details of the story, but make no mistake that the details were far more sadistic and brutal than what has been portrayed in this movie. At least to those of us that have read the transcripts of the videotapes that Bernardo took of his victims, and one can hardly blame the director from omitting those details or forcing an actor to play such a role out.
My only beef with this movie however is that it does attempt to paint a picture of Karla Homolka being just as much a victim here as Bernardo, and although no one can deny she was under his influence and subject to this violent outbursts, to suggest she had no control over this situation and simply tagged along for the ride is to suggest that she was just as much a victim of Bernardo as the two murder victims. Those versed in this case know much better and the role she may have played in the death of Kristen French (aka Kaitlyn Ross) is something we'll likely never know as there are those that suggest she was directly responsible for killing the second victim.
The acting in this film is nothing notable, but given the nature of the roles played here it's wonder they found anyone to play these two to begin with. Because of the difficult subject matter I'll let the mediocre acting pass because for it to be much better would almost be like saying the actors immersed themselves perhaps a little too much in characters that most would find revolting and if not downright sickening.
In the final analysis, 'Karla' is a film you'll only watch once and personally I don't think this was necessarily ever meant to be a movie for mass consumption either at the theatre or your local videostore. That being said, Canadians should have the right to see this movie for those so inclined vs. having the state tell us what is suitable or unsuitable for our viewing pleasure as there are movies out on the market FAR more disturbing about real life events than this flick could ever hope to be.
"Karla" is a sketchy adaptation of "Invisible Darkness", the true crime bestseller by Stephen Williams, which ran into legal hassles and much public outrage, for revealing court-sealed details of the grisly case, such as play-by-play descriptions of the incriminating videos. That there'd actually be a movie version was way too much for the various decency brigades, and no Canadian talent would dare touch it, so this is a rare example of a Canadian tale made entirely in the States by Americans, rather than the other way around. It shows, especially in the casting and characterizations. While the sequence of events, at least the more lurid ones, is laid out with plodding accuracy, it plays like something overheard, then retold, by someone who wasn't there. There's no feel for regional dialect or cultural idiosyncrasies, or even its time frame of a decade and a half ago. TV's Laura Prepon (no doubt imagining that this would be her "Monster" ticket to the big time)is all wrong as Karla, coming across a big-boned trailer trash hoyden perpetually stunned by her situation, rather than the petite, cunning and creepily girlish sociopath who so captured our mass revulsion. Misha Collins is all psycho-jock swagger and hoodlum snarls, with no hint of the pudgy-cheeked sickly boyish charm of the would-be yuppie next door, with his phony Ken Doll wholesomeness, that the real Bernardo not only socially aspired to, but used as such a clever disguise during his reign of terror.
The sheer ickiness of the real life couple is where "Karla" really misses the mark, in terms of both dramatic insight and black comedy potential. While the murders themselves, which the film wallows in as its main focal point, were indeed sad and terrible, there was a horrid hilarity to the killers and the 80s retro, idealized image they presented to the world. With their matching bleach blonde hair and rabid consumerism, they really thought themselves the perfect upwardly mobile couple, or at least a failed yokel approximation of one. Things like Karla's hideous taste in just about everything, and Paul's talentless aspirations to be the next Vanilla Ice, could've inserted some much needed chilly chuckles into the relentless despair, without detracting from the horrific impact. Also barely dealt with is that pompous, ridiculously expensive wedding of theirs, in which they paraded, the very picture of kitschy bliss as they waved to onlookers, through the streets of Niagara-on-the-Lake in a horse drawn carriage, only to finish the day at a grotesque reception of drunken family dysfunction. This could've surely been the most pivotal of climaxes, but is tossed off as a brief visual footnote. If only the film would've taken its cue from something like the cult classic, "The Honeymoon Killers", and balanced its real life horrors with a sense of their absurdity, which the well-written and extensively researched book was offering up in spades. That it didn't is hardly surprising, though, given all the moral indignation and potential lawsuits the production had to tippy-toe around, so that the finished product comes across as one long and pointless apology that it was even made. Of course the pedestrian direction by Joel Bender, veteran of such stellar titles as "Immortal Combat" and "Warrior Queen", doesn't help. His approach to serious docudrama seems to be showing as much nasty stuff as he can away with, with an earnest solemnity he hopes will camouflage his sleazy fixations. A classic case of flimsy talent trying to over-reach his abilities.
At any rate, I caught opening night of its limited Canadian release, and it appears that all the controversy surrounding this film has done nothing to spark attendance, and word-of-mouth certainly won't, either. Prime time crowd of maybe 50, curiosity seekers who learned absolutely nothing new, and smartsy teens (girls calling out to see if Karla was in the audience, and other girls answering, "Here I am!") looking for bad taste laughs, which it wasn't even inept enough to provide. My guess is that in its country of origin, where it hasn't yet found a distributor, "Karla" will go the route of the rest of Bender's products, bypassing the marquees and heading straight to cable.
Laura Prepon is believable and cold as Karla Homolka, who was jailed for killing her sister and conspiring with sexual sadist and psychopath Paul Bernardo. He is odiously portrayed by Misha Collins.
The story itself is horrific,and I believe the writer accurately portrayed Karla as borderline psychotic,yet she has a surface normalcy to society,much the same as Ted Bundy and other psychopaths. She is not a sympathetic character, and Prepon delivers a believable performance.
Overall an interesting study,Misha Collins as Bernard is particularly devoid of conscience and detestable,and it would be impossible to explain why any woman would stay with him for love, unless she was indeed psychotic.
Based on the real-life murders that occurred back in the early '90s, I found this true-crime flick a fairly disturbing film. I had read a little about the real crimes that happened before, finding that Homolka and Bernardo have been labeled Canada's most notorious murderers. While I know the basic details of the case, I'm still not all too familiar with the real Karla's involvement in the murders. In the film she is depicted as an abused woman, weakened by her husband's manipulative and violent personality. In fear of him, she does as he says, even if that means participating in horrific acts. The main reason she is seen as guilty in the murders is because of her "lack of empathy for the victims", and this is clearly shown throughout the film. The problem that I had here though is that I was confused as to how this film was trying to portray her - was it attempting to tell us that Karla was simply an abused, beaten-down person who was coaxed into these crimes? Or was she mentally unstable as well, and participated in the crimes by her own free will? To me it appeared the film was sympathetic towards her, but that's how I interpreted it. Whatever the real events may have consisted of, the storyline revolving around her character is fairly well constructed, whether it is fictionalized in the real Karla's favor or not. Good writing is present, and the story is told from Karla's point of view as she retells the events to a parole officer in hopes of making her way out of prison into the real world.
The acting in the film was surprisingly good. Laura Prepon, who gained her fame playing the friendly red-headed girl-next-door in the television sitcom "That '70s Show", makes a large departure from her comedy roots, in a powerhouse performance as an extremely dark, and obscure character. She plays the character surprisingly well, and anyone who is immune to seeing her as the spunky, good-hearted Donna on "That '70s Show" will be quite surprised with this disturbing performance she delivers. The audience can sympathize with her to a certain extent (which is sometimes almost fully). Again, I am not sure if the real Karla was as innocent as the film portrays her. In the film however, she seems relatively normal, and clearly not as mad as her husband. Her neglect for human life though (and her passive following of her husband) is a sure sign of mental illness. Misha Collins is menacing as well as her abusive and murderous husband - he's a scary guy. The violence in the film is mostly implicated and not shown, but it's just as equally effective - the abuse and torture endured by these innocent girls is awful, and stomach churning when projected on screen. I can't imagine what the real victims endured, and in respect I'd like to send out my condolences to the families of the real victims.
Overall, "Karla" is a disturbing film. Regardless of the real Karla Homolka's innocence or guilt in the actual crimes, this is still a really good crime film that holds itself up well. If you go into see this movie, expect a disturbing and uneasy experience. The story is fairly well told (even if the real facts may be distorted or changed for storytelling purposes), and it is an interesting film to watch, plus there are really good performances to be found. One thing I can say for sure is that it is much better than most of the straight-to-video true crime junk that you can find at your video store. 7/10.
In the end I was impressed with Prepon's ability to show two very different and intensely complicated people (the wife consumed by the love she feels for an abusive monster of a husband and the parolee reliving her worst experiences) throughout this film. Collins was equally impressive in portraying the charming guy that everyone loves and then turning into a monster in an instant. In watching this film one can understand why it took such a toll on the actors. Whether this film is true to the actual crimes or not, at the very least it presents a powerful impression of Karla's side of the story.
The film captures just a hint of the terror wrought upon the women Bernardo abused, in particular the girls he and Karla abducted, without resorting to conventional horror movie tactics. Not graphic, but infinitely more disturbing.
First time I watched the movie, I didn't like it. I was disappointed that the facts had been twisted the way they were. But the second time I watched it, I understood the whole point of having it be her side of the story. Because there are certain parts we don't know for sure exactly how they happened (the deaths of Leslie Mahaffy and Kristen French not being videotaped), there are now three sides to this story: Karla's, Paul's, and the truth. Being told from her lying mouth was the only way they were able to make this movie. That, and also because Karla's compliant victim defense adds another layer of complexity to the story which might make it more interesting for some. She's still crazy, but it's a different kind of crazy you see. Since then, this has become one of my favorite movies. It really is well made and well acted. If it had been received better and not totally slandered by Canada (as a Canadian myself, I say you can't have a problem with this being based on a true story without having a problem with Bonnie and Clyde or Schindler's List), I think there could've been a possibility for Laura Prepon to have maybe even gotten an Oscar Nomination for this role. She probably thought it was going to be her big breakout role in Hollywood. And it could have been, especially after Charlize Theron received critical acclaim and an Academy Award for her portrayal of serial killer Aileen Wuornos in Monster. But now she'll be remembered as Donna Pinciotti from That '70s Show, which is what I'm sure she was trying to avoid by taking on such a challenging and dark role. But she played the murderous bitch perfectly, especially during the evaluation scenes between her and her psychiatrist, Dr. Arnold, who served as a proper mediator for her unreliable narration. In a way, she was playing two different characters. Both the Karla who's been reported as having an "indifferent, haughty and irritable" personality, and the compliant victim Karla from her version of the story. The real Karla was obviously not that good an actress.
I've watched this movie with friends who knew nothing at all about the real case and they all liked it even though they thought it was sick and disturbing. But as sick and disturbing as this movie is, it's actually toned down through the movie's editing, as compared to what happened in real life. Almost every time I will watch the scenes of the psychotic rapes, torture, and murders of Leslie Mahaffy and Kristen French (renamed in the film out of respect), I will cry. Although, one particular part always makes me laugh for some reason; when Karla mentions Demerol to Dr. Arnold, he asks her if she wants some. She then looks him dead in the eyes with a hateful expression on her face and just calmly says, "No". I don't know why, but that part always cracks me up! This movie has some flaws, as most movies do. For example, there are some minor omissions and a couple of names have been changed due to legal reasons. It's not perfect or a masterpiece by any means. And it doesn't have a moral at the end of the story, other than love makes you crazy. But it is a very good movie that seemed to get a lot of negativity that wasn't necessarily deserved. It is much better than it gets credit for.
If you are a follower of True Crime films this is "must" viewing. For anyone else who can hold on for a dark journey, I also recommend it. You will find yourself caught up in the story and thinking about it long after you finish watching it.
The look of the film reminds me of a standard '80s television crime drama, which is a little tired, but not unattractive. However, the transitions between scenes appear clumsy. Misha Collins also tries his best as Paul Bernardo, but the script lets him descend too easily and quickly to raving lunatic. Collins' Bernardo screams "player" and "creep" from his first appearance. The real Bernardo is baby-faced and has a blank, innocent stare.
I was warned against seeing this film, so of course, I had to see it. I went in having only read a brief interview with Bender stating that the story would stick to recorded events and that the ultimate verdict regarding Homolka's guilt or innocence would be left up to viewers. Trust me, this film does take a stance and points the finger of blame squarely on Bernardo. Sanctifying Homolka reminds of that episode of "The Simpsons" where Mr. Burns writes his autobiography and paints himself not as Machiavelli's successor but as the world's hero.
As its title suggests, this film is related from her viewpoint, so sees her minimising her role as far as possible, something she could not extend to Tammy's death because of the video evidence. The names of the other two murder victims have been changed, and obviously due to the usual constraints, a lot has been omitted, but this is a brave film.
While it is true that the psychopathic Bernardo beat her severely, only a total douchebag would attempt to portray Homolka as a victim. That or the Attorney General of Ontario, but nuff said. "Karla" was released shortly after she was, the latter being an act that disgusted the Canadian public. The content of this film may disgust you, but don't blame the cast or the people behind it, they have done their craft proud.
For those who don't know, Paul Bernardo and Karla Holmolka were two beautiful, young Canadians from the Niagara Falls area who were convicted of raping, torturing and dismembering two of their three victims in the early 90's. Kristen French and Leslie Mahaffy are the two young high school girls that they kidnapped and dehumanized and then Tammy Holmolka was Karla's little sister who was drugged and then raped and then died of an apparent overdose. This story gripped Ontario and the rest of Canada for months in the early part of the 1990's. Paul Bernardo also became known as the Scarborough rapist and was convicted of some of those crimes as well. Holmolka finally turned on Bernardo when he beat her one too many times and she cut herself a nice little deal to serve only twelve years for her part of the crime. That is the Bernardo/Holmolka case in a nutshell.
Here in Canada, this film has been protested and considered blasphemous towards the memories of French and Mahaffy. While I agree that it must be difficult for the families to relive the memories, I have to say that I believe in freedom of speech and that this film is important in it's own right. It is a sanitized but accurate retelling of the story that shocked Canadians and others around the world that followed it. I have followed the case with great interest since it happened and to see it on big screen was not only disturbing, it was like reliving a nightmare all over again. Does that mean it should be banned because the families don't want it on screen? The answer to that is a resounding NO!
The strength of the film is the performance by Laura Prepon as Karla Holmolka. She seems to embody what Holmolka could have been like. She is attractive and evil all rolled into a salacious yet deviously disgusting débutante. The weakness of the film is that this is told from Holmolka's point of view. She begins to tell her story to the prison psychiatrist and of course what we get is her recollection of what happened. Is this the truth or is it just a fabrication to protect her already destroyed reputation? I look at it as being a 100% and unequivocal lie and a unforgivable plea for forgiveness. Holmolka a victim here? Hardly to the extent that she perpetuates herself to be. The evidence dictates that some of the crimes against the victims were crimes of jealousy, such as hair being cut off and so on. This was premeditated, psychosomatic, disturbing and most of all violent.
I guess I shouldn't be here to digress into the case, this is after all a movie review, but it is hard to review the film without a passionate response to memories of the past.
The film makers do a very commendable job of not going into soft core kiddie porn by keeping the killings off screen and the rapes to the youngsters also off screen. I give them full marks for not showing what truly happened as the Bernardo you see on screen is monster enough without showing what he truly did (google his name and his true crimes and actions will surface).
I am glad a film that tells this story is out there. Like we say about Remembrance Day, Lest We Forget. I know these crimes will never be forgotten here in Canada, but now we have a film that shows us that monsters are not just in fantasy and horror films, they live right next door to you and you might just say hi to them every day. And because this is a landmark case in Canadian judicial history, a film like this doesn't come across as sensational, it comes across as necessary.
The actors were really quite good...I recognized Laura Prepon. The actor playing Paul Bernardo, I haven't seen before...but he was extremely impressively in a very difficult role. The direction and editing was top notch. Much care ands sensitivity has been given to this production.
I recommend this film to everyone and especially the Canadians who might have resisted the idea of seeing the film.
I think this film really portrays them for what they are. THere is nothing glossed over. It seems to be as realistic as can be without showing scenes that might hurt the victims parents. Very sad and gruesome.
The film tries to analyze the reasons that these people were so nuts. And I think it does a good job. I've seen lots of films where you don't know why, but this one tells us. I was riveted to my seat waiting to see what would happen, even though I know what happened. Everyone knows the story.
I congratulate the writers, director and producer for a job well done.
Laura Prepon made a brave choice in this role and nails conflicting emotions of selfishness, remoteness and fear. Misha Collins is chilling and, in fairness, has an easier job in portraying Bernardo for what he was a savage, nocturnal, misogynistic beast. Watch the scene where he goes berserk at his wife, screaming at her to get out of "his" house before turning on a dime and stopping her cold with a "Princess, wait," when he realizes she actually intends to do as he said and leave.
I would not wish a living nightmare like Bernardo on any woman, even his wife, but one has to wonder what Homolka THOUGHT would happen when she learned his true nature. When her fiancé admits that he "wants" her 15 year-old sister, her question is not "And how much of a running start do you want before I tell my father that?", but "Are you gonna marry me?" The movie finds its strength in the small details that drive home the heartlessness of these people not that we needed reminding. Witness Bernardo whistling "Deck the Halls" while he fixes his future baby sister-in-law a drugged screwdriver and then stirs it with a candy cane. Witness the way he enters the house and blithely calls out "Hey, babe, I'm home," the night after her threw her down a set of stairs into the basement and beat the stuffing out of her.
Witness the way Karla reminds a victim to "smile for the camera" and taps her on the nose before retreating and letting Bernardo torment her. I concur with the analytic findings shown at the end of the movie that there is a "moral vacuity an absence of empathy" to her.
Watching "Karla", I was also struck by the similarities between Bernardo and Ted Bundy manipulative, apparently normal, avaricious, materialistic fiends. They both had a wife/girlfriend dangling on a string, and both started their life of crime as Peeping Toms with petty scams/theft before descending into violence. Both were also tormented by their own illegitimacy, which was kept secret from them by their mothers. "Karla" doesn't mention this implicitly, but watch for Bernardo's reaction when his 2nd victim calls him a b*****d.
Please be aware the violence in this film is not (IMHO) exploitative but is very graphic and, as in "Heavenly Creatures", made more sickening by the fact that it actually happened. I got dizzy and had to close my eyes on a shot of cardboard boxes - those who have seen the film will understand why.
I don't pretend to have insight into the nature or depth of Homolka's guilt, but one thing is for sure - through their cruelty and depravity, this couple deprived the world of (at least) 3 very special girls. All my respect and sympathy goes out to the families and loved ones of all their victims, both those who are and are no longer with us.
The movie obviously suffers from budgetary limitations but very often these are the very films which do not suffer from limitations of conscience. "Karla" most definitely has a conscience. Without making moral claims it guides us through the examination of conscience and battle with self deception of character that "there but for the grace of God" too many of us could all too easily become.
The film is an indictment of the poverty of healthy values of the society we have all created for ourselves.
I think the filmmakers took time to make this a very sensitive portrayal of a rough episode in Canadian history.
Two young criminals...one was actually a long time rapist...meet and develop a kinky relationship right away. Karla Homolka, 18yrs old, will do anything for Paul Bernardo, 21 years old. This liaison eventually leads to some sad situations where the couple commit some horrific crimes and are in complete denial about it.
The amazing part of the story is that the couple are young, beautiful and healthy.....and are complete psychopaths.
I think the film is very well balanced in presenting the true story of what happened in this cozy 'burb of Toronto.