Spoiler-Free Film Review: Waking Karma

February 16, 2023

Written by Joseph Perry

Joseph Perry is the Film Festival Editor for Horror Fuel; all film festival related queries and announcements should be sent to him at josephperry@gmail.com. He is a contributing writer for the "Phantom of the Movies VideoScope" and “Drive-In Asylum” print magazines and the websites Gruesome Magazine, Diabolique Magazine, The Scariest Things, B&S About Movies, and When It Was Cool. He is a co-host of the "Uphill Both Ways" pop culture nostalgia podcast and also writes for its website. Joseph occasionally proudly co-writes articles with his son Cohen Perry, who is a film critic in his own right. A former northern Californian and Oregonian, Joseph has been teaching, writing, and living in South Korea since 2008.

In Waking Karma, Sunny (Kim Alexander) has been hiding her teenaged daughter Karma (Hannah Christine Shetler) from Karma’s father, cult leader and murderer Paul (Michael Madsen). That Paul is her father is no secret, which has led to a life of being talked about and shunned by her classmates. Thought to be on the run and hiding in Mexico, Paul finds Sunny and Karma — who have gone into hiding themselves after receiving a note from him —  and he means to have a relationship with his daughter . . . and not a healthy one.

Codirectors Carlos Montaner and Liz Fania Werner — the latter also wrote the screenplay — have crafted an indie film that boasts an earnest performance from Shetler as a confused teen but that offers little in the way of originality. Also, Madsen basically walks through his performance of a cult leader portrayed as something of a cross between Charles Manson and The Night of the Hunter’s Harry Powell, while Alexander does her best as she is tasked with playing a mother who seems uptight and secretive from the opening scenes.

Compelling drama is an important ingredient in making a good horror movie, but Waking Karma focuses much more on the drama and offers very little in the horror department. There’s a creepy scene involving a physical examination of Karma — I don’t want to give anything more about it away — certain to make viewers highly uncomfortable, but otherwise as far as suspense and scariness go, suffice it to say that viewers who are seasoned in watching fear-fare cinema about cults will be able to predict where things are headed early on.

Waking Karma, from XYZ Films, is currently available on North American VOD.



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