Starring: Laura Prepon, Misha Collins, Patrick Bauchau
Rated R for Brutal Psychotic Violence including Murder, Rape and Spousal Abuse, Disturbing Sexual Content and Strong Language
It is important to understand that the events in "Karla" cannot be accepted as 100% factual without reasonable doubt. While there is no question that Karla Homolka and Paul Bernardo were responsible in some way for the murders of three young women (including Karla's sister Tammy), the truth about who was behind it all is closer to a "he said, she said" case. That's one thing that the film forgets, or chooses to ignore, and it's not to the film's benefit.
Karla Homolka (Prepon) knew from the second she saw him that she was going to marry Paul Bernardo (Collins). Finding out that he was the Scarsboro rapist did little to dissuade her. She loved him unconditionally, and that was enough. She would do anything to please him, including letting him drug and rape her younger sister Tammy. That ends with Tammy's death, but she still stands by her man. It would take more years, more rapes and two more murders before she would have the courage to leave him.
At least that's her story, and the one that director Joel Bender tells. Whether he actually believes Karla (she was diagnosed by psychiatrists as a borderline psychopath and showed no remorse for her actions) or is simply presenting the film from her point of view, I'm not sure. Either way, it does the film a disservice. Looking at the film objectively would have created a lot of ambiguity in the story, and made it much more interesting. It would also have helped the film's credibility and pacing (the film gets repetitive after a while).
The acting is solid. As Karla, Laura Prepon is adequate when she's low-key but she doesn't convince when she has to show much emotion. She's too detached for her story to be believable, and that prevents the audience from having much sympathy for her. Even when Paul repeatedly beats the hell out of her, she rarely seems to feel much. This is partly due to the script with fails to give her the necessary psychological depth, but Prepon's limitations as an actress are on display. More effective is Misha Collins, who regretted appearing in the film after the uproar it caused (the case is one of the most notorious crimes in Canada's history). He's handsome and charismatic, but there is a viciousness to his personality that he does little to hide. He's quite good. As the doctor who is interviewing Karla (the majority of the film is presented in flashback), Patrick Bauchau has little to do. But he is quite good nonetheless. The best performances are given by Kristen Honey and Sarah Foret, who play the final two victims. They're quite good, and lend heart and tragedy to their scenes.
In addition to neglecting the most interesting aspect of the story (and thus opening himself up to controversy), Joel Bender does a lackluster job of presenting the material. The cinematography is bland (unvaried lighting, dull shot selection, etc), the pacing is erratic, and the violence, while brutal, feels held back. A director who takes on a project like this must be fearless. Bender seems afraid of pushing too many buttons.
"Karla" is many things, but one thing I can say for certain is that it is definitely not for everyone. But for those who are curious, it's better than "Dahmer." Not that that means much.