The short version is; Karla Homolka and Paul Bernardo, also known as the Barbie and Ken killers, were convicted of murdering three teenagers, Tammy Homolka (Karla’s younger sister), Kristen French and Leslie Mahaffy. Bernardo later admitted to committing a number of rapes. Karla testified against Bernardo in exchange for a plea deal and was released in 2005. Bernardo is in prison for life.
The film, Karla (official website), caused as much controversy as one would expect. The movie was pulled from the Monterey Film Festival, although later the families of the victims viewed Karla privately and stated that they would not protest it. The debate raged whether the filmmakers were exploiting the horrific crimes or attempting to tell their tragic story.
Either way, the film closely follows the reality of couple’s life and crimes before they were finally caught. One noticeable difference is that the names of the two schoolgirl victims were changed to Tina McCarthy and Kaitlyn Ross. Although since the movie was so realistic and everyone already knew the names of the victims anyway, it seems somewhat futile.
The film is punctuated by Karla’s letters and complimented by the her informational monologue. While lending itself to reality, it also shows Karla’s detachment. She states that killing Tammy made her and Paul stronger and brought them closer together.
Viewing the movie is conflicting since the viewer is forced to make a judgment about Karla’s character while the events play out. There is no disputing that Paul abused Karla. The domestic violence is well documented. However, the movie shows Karla standing at the sidelines, not wanting to be a part of the crimes, but unable to leave because of her sadistic husband’s wishes.
It would have been easy for this movie to venture into a genre of horror movies known as gorn (gore porn). The crimes were sexually brutal and while the filmmakers could have indulged in expanding on the sadist events, they didn’t. There is minimal nudity and the actual rape scenes are short.
Instead the focus is on Karla. When Bernardo strangles Tina McCarthy the camera remains on his wife. She doubles over in horror and nearly vomits as she tries to look away from murder. A viewer not familiar with the real life crimes might feel a twinge of sympathy for this woman, caught in an abusive relationship, too terrified to leave and too insecure to walk away.
Meanwhile, the reality is not that simple. In the video tapes that Karla and Paul recorded Karla is shown as a willing participant. At times she even held the camera while her husband violated the young girls. In the tapes she is not at all concerned with the girl’s suffering. She was noted to casually blow dry her hair after the second victim was killed.
Naturally, it was easy for Karla to claim that she was the victim and that her involvement in the crimes was forced and that Paul scripted everything that happened. True to life, this is shown through the movie and explains how Karla managed her incredibly light plea deal. At the end of the film Karla states that she was not responsible for the murder of the two schoolgirls, but that she did kill her sister, which is the only crime that the film version of the criminal shows any remorse for.
Overall, the film is a disturbing and mostly realistic depiction of the events surrounding Paul Benardo and Karla Homolka. In the end of the film, Karla has her last say about what she did and what she was accused of. The psychologist’s evaluation of her is the last shot of the film. It labels her as manipulative and egocentric. It goes on to state that she might have tendencies towards psychosis.