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MOVIE REVIEW: Sluggish “WAKING KARMA” Fails To Deliver

Thursday, February 16, 2023 | Reviews


Starring Michael Madsen, Hannah Christine Shetler and Kimberly Alexander
Directed by Carlos Montaner and Liz Fania Werner
Written by Liz Fania Werner
XYZ Films

In the style of countless other coming-of-age tales, WAKING KARMA seeks to showcase the difficulties of that very special time in a young person’s life: the transition from childhood to adulthood, the transformation from naiveté to mature wisdom, and the discovery that your father, an infamous cult leader, is on his way to carry out some seriously messed up “divine” plans for your life. It’s a tale as old as time. Somewhere deep inside WAKING KARMA is a decent story and plot. However, even in its modesty and restraint (or perhaps because of it), it misses the mark. 

The story follows Karma (Hannah Christine Shetler) and her mother, Sunny (Kimberly Alexander), as they run from Karma’s cult-leader daddy, Paul (Michael Madsen). Unfortunately, there’s not much else to the plot. Interesting ideas are introduced but never expanded or explained, and at a mere hour and 30 minutes, it takes its sweet time getting anywhere. Once it arrives, one questions if the journey was worth it.

Performances in the film are adequate. Shetler, as Karma, is a suitable choice for the role. She delivers what’s asked of her (which is a lot), and I’m curious to see what she could do with a more cohesive text. As Sunny, Alexander takes a while to warm up to the role. The dialogue between her and her daughter in the opening scene is borderline saccharin. It would be a challenge for any actor to convincingly deliver these lines. As the evil-to-the-bone, insane cult leader, Paul, Madsen seems disinterested and bored. Having starred in a handful of the most compelling films of the last 30 years, it’s apparent he’s just not feeling this one. Obviously, the producers went with a big name to draw an audience, but they might have benefited from casting a fresher, hungrier actor.

WAKING KARMA’s biggest misstep is the filmmaking itself. Directed by Carlos Montaner and Liz Fania Werner (who also wrote the screenplay), the film’s pacing is too slow when it should be quicker and rushes through the more compelling moments (which are few and far between). It’s surprising that the film was written by a woman, considering one extremely disturbing scene showcases the physical violation of the 17-year-old lead. It’s uncomfortable and, frankly, totally ineffective. The editing also does the film a real disservice. Cuts are uneven, the tone doesn’t match, and often, it’s awkwardly apparent that actors in close-up shots are talking to no one. The film’s dialogue deadens the pace, inspiring audiences to double-check the film’s runtime. If everybody talked just a little bit faster, the movie could have been a half-hour shorter and might have been a little better.

The most frustrating thing about this movie, though, and what simply cannot be forgiven, is that its trailer gives away the story. Like,  the whole story.  And unfortunately, it’s far more satisfying and better constructed than the full-length feature. 

WAKING KARMA is available now on iTunes, Vudu, Google Play, and Amazon Instant Video.


Ricky J. Duarte
Ricky is a writer, actor, singer, and the host of the "Rick or Treat Horrorcast" podcast. He lives in a super haunted apartment above a cemetery in New York City with his evil cat, Renfield, and the ghosts of reasons he moved to NYC in the first place., @RickOrTreatPod