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Thursday, January 26, 2023

‘Waking Karma’ Review – Religious Cult Thriller Lacks in Thrills

Between a creepy ritual murder and a montage of newspaper headlines about cults, Waking Karma shows promise in its first few minutes. The story then shifts to its young main character, Karma (Hannah Christine Shetler), who is struggling to tell her mother Sunny (Kimberly Alexander) about her acceptance to Harvard. What should be good news becomes the start of an uncomfortable and long overdue conversation. Karma doesn’t know how Sunny will react; the two have been inseparable since they escaped a cult.

Carlos Montaner and Liz Fania Werner’s movie loses its mystique as soon as Karma asks her mother about her estranged father, Paul, and Sunny does what she always does; she acts shifty and stays quiet. Regardless of her weirdness, Karma doesn’t suspect anything. Not even when the two receive a foreboding letter from Paul, saying he’s coming for his daughter. The timing of the letter, right after Karma talks about changing her name and going away to school, is too suspicious. It’s as if the directors didn’t trust the audience to figure things out on their own.

Before long, Karma and her mother hide out at a compound in the country, one belonging to Sunny’s friends (Bradley Fisher, Christine Sloane) who also defected from the cult. The story fulfills what was foreshadowed earlier, and Paul (Michael Madsen) arrives with his brainwashed goon (Christopher Showerman). Madsen make an eerie entrance, emerging from the shadows like a boogeyman. And while he certainly has presence, he ends up being the least intimidating character in the movie.

From there Karma is subjected to various tortures, such as making her eat meat when she identifies as a vegan. If she doesn’t comply, Paul will kill her mother. These carefully selected mind games and tests, some more invasive than others, fill the repetitive and tedious middle act. And after revealing the twist that audiences saw coming miles away, Waking Karma continues to feel like a broken record. The titular character thinks she can undo years and years of programming. This goes on for what feels like too long before the mildly more engaging third act comes around.

The point of these personal trials — including the most unsettling moment of the movie, that being Karma’s virginity test — is to break Karma down and rebuild her as something more to her father’s liking. As intriguing as that sounds, along with an idea as ripe as cults, the movie doesn’t dig deep enough into its own subject matter. It’s a surface-level exploration of a real-life issue. There is more emphasis on shocks than substance.

Waking Karma comes across as a dark drama forcing itself to be a conventional horror movie. The topic of religious repression is scary all on its own, yet directors Montaner and Werner don’t convey enough of that particular kind of dread. If anything, they hold back too much. Additionally, the horror elements show up later than sooner, and they don’t do as much for the story as you hope they would. By then it simply feels tacked on.

Waking Karma takes the long way to reach its joyless conclusion. This movie is about someone trying to break free from their past and rehabilitate unhealthy traditions, yet their journey is deadened by predictability and dull execution. It’s clear the writer is eager to discuss the harms of cults, yet that passion doesn’t fully make its way to the screen.

Waking Karma is available on U.S. VOD and at digital retailers starting on January 26.

Waking Karma

The post ‘Waking Karma’ Review – Religious Cult Thriller Lacks in Thrills appeared first on Bloody Disgusting!.


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