*Rape trigger warning*
Starting in May of 1987, Paul Bernardo (also known as “the Scarborough Rapist”) committed at least two murders and twelve known sexual assaults (probably more), many with the help of his wife, Karla Homolka (the title character). They are known as the “Ken and Barbie Killers”
I went into the film knowing none of this. All I knew was that it starred Misha Collins and was based on a true story. I’m a big fan of Misha’s work in general, so when I saw this on Netflix I thought to myself “hey, this will be interesting. I’ll learn, I’ll see some good acting, and I’ll be able to handle it.”
Man, do I have poor judgement.
Everything about this film is disturbing. Let’s start with the production, shall we? I know this is a long quote, but it is worth the read, trust me.
Misha Collins (who played Paul): “When we got to set, I was sure they were gonna fire me… They were gonna see that I’m not that guy at all! The first scene we shot was a scene where I’m beating Karla, my wife, mercilessly. And I um… I was just totally shocked by how… I felt totally invigorated and exhilarated when I was beating her. It shocked the sh*t outta me!… While we were shooting I was having [Paul's] dreams and I would wake up and it’d be like ‘get out of my head’. It was really scary, I’ve never had that happen before. I remember going for a run and I was running by this junior high school and I was leering through the chain link fence at the 13 year old girls.”
This is the guy who cracks up laughing on the set of Supernatural when someone smiles at him. He goes on to explain that the director (Joel Bender) was “a total creep” to the point where Misha got a restraining order against him after filming was over. He would “threaten to come into the production offices and shoot everyone”.
The most disturbing bit, in my opinion, of Misha’s testimony is when he says that after one scene where he had tied up, beaten, and humiliated a girl, the director came over and said “Great job Misha. That was really hot.”
I would love to include interviews with other members of the cast and crew, but no one else seems to have spoken about it. Strange, for a film which was supposed to debut at the 2005 Montreal Film Festival.
Oh, yeah. Did I mention that pretty much all of Canada initially banned this film?
There are a number of reasons for this. People felt it exploited the victims memories, that the factual liberties made the film inaccurate, that it was too soon, and (the main complaint) that the film was sympathetic toward Karla, who played an equal part in many of the murders, while being totally apathetic toward the victims.
At the very end of the film before the credits, text explains that Karla, while she put on a good act, was completely incapable of feeling empathy. I think this alone explains the rest of the film.
Karla is an open-ended movie. It’s shown in flashback as Karla relates the story to her lawyer and the film almost implies that the whole thing was a lie constructed to make her look innocent. This is entirely plausible and makes sense when you think about her reactions when she is being interrogated as opposed to in her story. In real life she is very deadpan and shows little emotion when speaking of her or Paul’s crimes. In her story she is obviously disturbed, but afraid of what Paul will do to her if she leaves, as he has footage of Karla killing her own sister. This contrast not only reveals the lies in her story, but what a great actress Laura Prepon is.
When you look at it as a lie, it makes sense that you don’t feel any strong emotion for the victims. If Karla couldn’t care about them she can’t convincingly portray that pity. It comes across only as disdain for Paul, more because of jealousy than his actual crimes.
Paul himself is a great character. He is frightening because you never know when he is going to turn violent. His voice and actions stay totally level, even while he is beating Karla or raping a school girl. Misha Collins usually plays the adorable innocent, so it’s interesting to see him as the adorable sociopath. When he is being nice there’s an underlying intimidation. When he is being violent there’s an underlying likability. That is what makes this film so disturbing: you feel more comfortable with Paul when he is violent than when he’s around his friends.
Don’t get me wrong, this film has its flaws. The sound mixing can be uneven, some of the camera work is distracting, and the acting is not the best (outside of Collins and Prepon, of course). The lawyer stands out as a particularly dull actor. I’m just trying to say that this film is interesting and that the subject matter distracts from the fact that it is basically just a Bonny and Clyde story. It isn’t even that graphic. The most you see are bare breasts occasionally, and the sexual scenes are not drawn out or the main focus.
Final thoughts: A disturbing flick with a disturbing upbringing. Probably not for everyone, but it’ll stick with you no matter what and make you think twice before walking alone.