Controversy and film are no strangers to one another. There have been numerous movies over the years, “Silent Night, Deadly Night” and “Faces of Death” are just two examples of such films which, upon release, caused a public outcry that cinema had surpassed an expected semblance of decency. “Karla” is a film based on the real life crimes committed by Karla Homolka and Paul Bernardo. Before a single frame of the film had even been shot, the movie caused outrage among Canadian citizens, where the media-dubbed ‘Ken and Barbie killers’ perpetrated their vile crimes. Those crimes included kidnapping, torture, rape and murder. In fact, Ontario’s Premier, Dalton McGuinty, asked the citizens of Ontario, and all Canadians, for that matter, to boycott the film upon its release. In addition, lawyer Tim Danson, who represents the families of victims Leslie Mahaffy and Kristen French, insisted that the producers allow him to view the movie before its release date, in order to determine if legal action should be taken in an attempt to block its being shown. In the end, no legal action was carried out, and the girls real names were kept out of the movie.
Nothing that is revealed in “Karla” comes anywhere near the sort of gratuitous, graphic, violence featured, for instance, in the movies in the “Saw” franchise. Nor, for that matter, does it scratch the surface of the well written and filmed, blood soaked cinema of a Quentin Tarantino helmed project. With that being said, considering what is transpiring is not the fictional scenarios dreamed up by a script writer, but based on actual events, does lend the heinous actions, which are more implied than shown, an extra potency.
“Karla” which is parts crime, drama, and thriller was released on January 20, 2006. The film was directed by Joel Bender (The Amazing Race), who co-wrote the screenplay with Michael D. Sellers (Eye of the Dolphin), and Manette Rosen (Bella Mia). The 99 minute movie, which is told from Karla’s point-of-view, begins with a montage of fake home video clips featuring Prepon’s character, and Misha Collins (Supernatural), who plays the deplorable, Paul Bernardo. After the opening credits finish, Karla begins her interview with a court appointed psychiatrist, Dr. Arnold (Patrick Bauchau). He has come to the prison she is being held in, to evaluate whether or not he should recommend that she be granted parole.
At the start, Dr. Arnold gives Karla a photo album filled with pictures of her and Paul. As she flips through the pages of the album, she begins to wax poetic about how she initially felt about her husband, who had dreams of being a musician and filmmaker. The questions Dr. Arnold asks provide the narrative framework for the film, which primarily unfolds via flashback. The catalyst which starts the memories, shows the first time Karla and Paul met, in a hotel restaurant, in Toronto. Karla and her friend Peggy (Emilie Jacobs) were there attending a veterinary conference. Unbeknownst to Karla at the time, Paul had already begun his criminal activities. He had been raping women, and was known as the Scarborough Rapist. Years before Paul was caught, and incarcerated for the crimes he and Karla committed, a sketch of him appeared on the front page of a Toronto newspaper. The resemblance to Paul prompted several phone calls to detectives investigating the case alerting them to Bernardo’s presence. He was called in for questioning, admitted that the sketch did bear a resemblance to the way he looked, but charmed the police into believing he couldn’t be the one responsible for such actions. In addition, Bernardo agreed to provide a DNA sample, but nothing, came of it at that time.
While Karla and Peggy are sitting in the restaurant having drinks, Paul arrives with his friend, Nick (Alex Boyd). The two guys immediately come up to Karla’s and Peggy’s table, and after a few brief, corny, pick up lines are spoken by Paul, he asks if he and Nick can join the women. The attraction Karla has for Paul is instantaneous. After having known him for a few hours, they go up to her hotel room, and in front of Peggy and Nick, give in to their lust, during which time, the viewer hears Karla tell Paul that she loves him. The love she feels for Paul, and the levels she will go to prove that love to him are depicted through the rest of the film. It is a love that will lead to dire consequences for three teenage girls – included among those victims was Karla’s teenage sister, Tammy (Cherilyn Hayres). The wicked Karla, is shown as a willing participant in an evening of drinking, drugs, and rape involving Tammy; a night that would end in the overdose and death of the young girl.
Misha Collins delivers a strong performance in the role of Paul Bernardo. He effortlessly shifts from portraying the sinister side of the character when committing crimes, to that of an outwardly, well rounded human being. Likewise, Laura Prepon does a believable job with her restrained portrayal of Karla. My overall problem with the film is not the acting, the leads especially, did the best they could with what they had to work with; it’s the rest of the production that I felt was sub-par. The dialogue was poorly written, and sometimes comes across as laughable. The film contains little to no sense of pacing which builds toward any kind of tension that can grip the viewer. In addition, the soundtrack, and what is shown on screen don’t mix well. (As an aside: Misha Collins has strong feelings toward the film, and has stated in interviews that he intensely disliked his experience working on the movie, and hopes that his fans will not watch it).
After she was arrested, Karla blamed Paul for the crimes, claiming that she only went along with what he did, because she was afraid for her life. Lending some credence to her story at the time, was the fact that among Bernardo’s many undesirable traits, he frequently engaged in spousal abuse. Before his arrest, he had beaten Karla something awful, which ultimately helped her to strike a deal with prosecutors. In exchange for her testimony against Paul, Karla was permitted to plead to manslaughter, and would serve no more than twelve years in prison. Only after the deal had been struck, did videotapes, which Karla’s original lawyer hid from prosecutors, come out. The videos, which were filmed by Paul, documented the actions the couple took against the girls. The tapes, which were deemed too graphic to show to the jury, were only played for sound, and they shed light on the fact that Karla wasn’t such an innocent bystander, who was in fear for her life.
After she was paroled, Karla Homolka eventually wound up living under the assumed name Leanne Bordelais in Guadeloupe in the Caribbean; during the years since her release, she has gotten married and has had three children. Recently, Karla moved back to Canada, and now resides in Quebec. For those interested in what I consider, minus Prepon’s and Collins’ acting, to be a waste of time, the movie is available for streaming on Netflix.