Directed By: Joel Bender
Starring: Laura Prepon, Misha Collins, Patrick Bauchau
Tag line: "A controversial journey into one woman's heart of darkness"
Trivia: Since the film's release, Misha Collins has said he regrets participating in it, and now tells people not to watch the movie
The true story of a young couple who murdered three teenage girls, Karla is, at times, a shocking motion picture, yet I can’t shake the feeling that, based on the real-life incidents that inspired it, the movie should have been even more shocking than it is.
By all appearances, Paul Bernardo (Misha Collins) and Karla Homolka (Laura Prepon) were perfect for each other. They were attractive, successful, and seemed very much in love. But behind the artifice, the two concealed a dark secret: Paul was a serial rapist. During their engagement, he committed a number of sexual assaults in Scarbourough, Ontario (the media nicknamed him “The Scarborough Rapist”), which continued for several years. It wasn’t long before Karla learned the truth about Paul, yet because of her love for him, she did nothing to stop his crime spree. Eventually, Paul turned his attention towards Karla’s 15-year-old sister Tammy (Cherilyn Hayres), who fascinated him because she was a virgin. With Karla’s help, Paul drugged Tammy two days before Christmas and, once she was unconscious, raped her. Unfortunately, the young girl ingested too many drugs, and choked to death on her own vomit. This was the first of three murders the couple would commit, with each victim being an underage girl. Recounting the tales of their exploits to a prison psychologist (Patrick Bauchau), whose job is to determine whether or not she should be granted parole, an incarcerated Karla paints a picture of a battered woman so afraid of her husband that she went along with his every whim. But was Karla Homolka truly a victim, or was she every bit the monster that Paul was?
Laura Prepon (best known to TV fans as Donna, the redhead next door in That ‘70s Show) is mesmerizing as the troubled Karla, a woman so in love that she turns a blind eye to the numerous crimes committed by her significant other, and on occasion reluctantly offers him assistance (while Paul raped Tammy, Karla held a rag soaked in Halothane over the girl’s face to ensure she didn’t wake up in the middle of it). Karla doesn’t even protest when Paul videotapes his sexual conquests (including his assault of Tammy). Looking quite beautiful with her dyed blond hair, Prepon is convincing as both the battered wife (Paul hits her constantly) and the enabler, going so far as to cruise around with him in their car, helping to choose his third (and final) victim, Kaitlyn Ross (Sarah Foret), a 15-year-old schoolgirl. Yet despite her complicity, Karla is shown to be an unwilling participant, and Prepon manages to convey the fear and disgust her character supposedly experienced; in one key scene, she looks on in horror as Paul strangles his second victim, Tina McCarthy (Kristen Swieconek) with an electrical cord. Misha Collins is also strong as the psychotic Paul, but it’s Prepon who delivers the film’s most poignant performance.
Karla proved to be a very controversial film, especially in Canada, where the actual crimes occurred. Ontario’s Attorney General, Michel Bryant, called for a boycott of the movie, and a planned showing at the 2005 Montreal World Film Festival was canceled when one of the sponsors, Air Canada, protested. Having now seen Karla, I find myself in the unusual position of sympathizing with its detractors, who are convinced the real Karla Homolka was as much a killer as her husband, and because she made a deal with the prosecution, she got off with a sentence that was far too lenient (in fact, she’s a free woman today, remarried and the mother of three children). There’s no doubt she was battered during her marriage to Paul Bernardo (prior to the revelation that he was a sexual predator, Bernardo served a night in jail for spousal abuse), but there’s also evidence suggesting she enthusiastically participated in the killings, that, like her deranged husband, she got a charge out of it all (one of the many videos Paul Bernardo took supposedly showed Karla sexually pleasing him, promising to help him carry out his crimes because he was “The King”).
Whether Homolka was an eager accessory to the murders or not, it doesn’t seem right that Karla portrays her as a victim. In this sad, twisted story, the only real victims are the women and children Paul Bernardo violated, three of whom died as a result. Karla Homolka is still very much alive.