'Karla' leaves unanswered questions

Controversial new film about Karla Homolka leaves key questions unanswered, according exclusive review by CBC Arts Online.

Karla, a controversial new film about serial killers Karla Homolka and Paul Bernardo, implies Holmolka had ample opportunity to leave her husband, but leaves open the key question – which of the two prompted the couple's crimes?

Bernardo and Homolka kidnapped, tortured, raped and killed Ontario schoolgirls Leslie Mahaffy and Kristen French in the early 1990s.

CBC Arts Online has been given an exclusive advance preview of the finished version of the film. Karla has generated plenty of headlines, but until now no reviewer in Canada or any other country has been allowed to see the final cut.

At one point in Karla, Homolka (Laura Prepon) is depicted kissing one of her young victims. However, the film does not contain explicit scenes of sexual assault, leaving the rapes of the girls to the imagination.

While the feature shows Homolka being repeatedly beaten by her husband, it also suggests that she had plenty of chances to leave him.

At one point in the film, Homolka is left alone to guard one of the couple's young victims. "Why don't you leave him?" the girl asks. "You don't understand," Homolka replies.

Following an opening-credits sequence of faux home movies, Homolka's interview with a psychiatrist provides the narrative frame for the film. She flashes back to her first meeting with Bernardo, telling the psychiatrist, "I knew that he would be my husband."

The film recaps their assault on Homolka's sister and the slayings of Mahaffy and French (whose names are changed to Tina McCarthy and Kaitlin Ross in the movie). At one point, the seemingly perfect couple is shown kissing affectionately in front of a Christmas tree while the Burl Ives standard Have a Holly Jolly Christmas plays in the background.

Karla also depicts Homolka introducing her husband to bondage, and shows her objecting to the notion that she was the driving force behind the crimes.

Karla, which was originally titled Deadly, was most recently in the news when it was pulled from the lineup of the Montreal World Film Festival. It had been scheduled to premiere on Aug. 26.

On Aug. 3, the festival's organizers said they decided against screening the film because of concerns from sponsors.

Michael Sellers – a producer with Hollywood's Quantum Entertainment, the production company behind the film – said at the time he believed Air Canada had put pressure on the festival to cancel the film's premiere. Before the cancellation, the airline indicated that it did not want its logo to appear at the screening.

Karla was shot on a budget of $5 million US and stars Prepon, the actress best known for playing Donna on the Fox sitcom That '70s Show. Misha Collins co-stars as Bernardo. It was directed by Joel Bender.

Among other assaults, Bernardo and Homolka sexually assaulted and killed 14-year-old Mahaffy in 1991, and 15-year-old French the following year. The couple videotaped the rapes in their suburban St. Catharines, Ont., home.

Bernardo is serving a life sentence for his part in the crimes, while Homolka completed her 12-year sentence in July.

Tim Danson, a lawyer who represents the Mahaffy and French families, has been speaking out against the film since before Sellers and Bender began shooting.

He suggested earlier this summer that he may seek a court injunction to stop the movie from being distributed in Canada.

Sellers had invited Danson and the French and Mahaffy families to preview the film before its debut in Montreal.

The official website for Karla says that when Homolka was married to Bernardo she was "conflicted by her conscience but still unable to escape."

"In the end, this gripping, tension-packed film leaves the viewer to ponder the psyches of two individuals in a tragically demented relationship, and to judge: Was Karla herself caught in Paul's web, a victim? Or did the fact that she joined him in his crimes in spite of having an apparent conscience make her evil even deeper than his?"

The website also claims that the producers of the film took pains to make it as realistic as possible.

"Every scene of the film was derived from events transcribed in court testimony using police reports, interviews between Karla and her psychiatrist, and videotape of the crimes shot by the perpetrators themselves," it says.

During Bernardo's 1995 trial,the torture videotapes were deemed too disturbing to be shown in court. Spectators were allowed only to listen to the tapes while they were played for the jury.

Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty praised the Montreal World Film Festival for its decision to scrap the film's debut.

"These crimes were searing events in the life of this province," McGuinty said. "I have not understood how people would want to profit from that."