SPECIAL FEATURE: DVD Review: Sweet Karma

Film: Sweet Karma
Release date: 13th September 2010
Certificate: 18
Running time: 85 mins
Director: Andrew Thomas Hunt
Starring: Shera Bechard, John Tokatlidis, Frank J. Zupancic, Christian Bako
Genre: Action/Crime/Drama/Thriller
Studio: Anchor Bay
Format: DVD
Country: Canada

This is an English-Language release.

Rape and revenge movies have rarely offered anything new to the mix since they gate-crashed the movie scene during the seventies. So far, so brutal. But the genre has developed more pleasingly away from Hollywood, using torture as a shocking last resort, dabbling only occasionally, calming us with arty visuals, characterization and story. Now it’s Canada’s turn. Sweet Karma, written and directed by newcomer Andrew Thomas Hunt, better known for his music videos and photography, introduces us to Shera Bechard, a model with no previous acting credentials playing the lead – a mute. Hollywood must be shaking in its blood-stained boots.

Karma (Shera Bechard), a young, mute Russian woman follows in her dead sister’s footsteps by signing up to become a housemaid in Toronto, with hopes of discovering the truth about Anna’s demise.

Keen to exact revenge on those responsible, Karma follows her sister’s trail, soon realising that her employers’ ideas of a spit and polish are completely different to her own. From sleazy strip joints to dirty motel rooms, her journey to retribution forces her to confront some of the most vicious thugs out there, using and abusing girls simply to make cold hard cash.

Befriended by a gang-member and a friend of Anna’s, Karma must put their hidden agendas to one side as she’ll need all the help she can get if she is to retaliate, let alone survive…

Shera Bechard moved to Toronto to pursue a modeling career, during which she worked with photographers Marcus Klinko, George Whiteside and music director Andrew Thomas Hunt, who was clearly taken by her, seeing as he took a huge risk by casting her as the lead for his feature debut. Picking up the New Wave Best Actress Award at Austin’s annual international Fantastic Fest 2009, he wasn’t the only one.

While her performance is commendable, filling the role with endearing warmth and looks to die for, the latter allowing her character to get away with murder time and time again, it’s only when she is mistreated that we question Hunt’s decision. Lacking the power of articulate speech is a powerful plot device, not only in using imagery to provide essential back-story, but to create suspense otherwise impossible if our protagonist is able to scream for help.

Sadly, Hunt lazily uses a flashback to provide us with what he considers key information regarding Anna’s escape to a better life in Canada. It’s unnecessary to say the least. As for tension, Bechard’s character is rarely put in too much danger, and when she is, during the standout scene of the movie, it’s behind closed doors, and in a place nobody would come to her aid even if she demanded it. A chase scene leading to her predicament also wastes the opportunity to play out some much-needed suspense – it wouldn’t hurt to watch Anthony Waller’s Mute Witness (1994) for a lesson in how it should be done.

Therefore, it stands to reason that even though Hunt knew that Bechard’s looks would provide a justifiable amount of empathy, as well as giving her a believable device to seduce her enemies, it still doesn’t explain why her character had to be mute. Considering her lack of desire to act any further, and a script not playing on the strengths of her disorder, it’s disappointingly safe to say we already know the answer.

Bechard is supported by a strong cast of relative unknowns. While nobody really stands out from the crowd of thugs and gangsters, they all keep it believable, and with the inclusion of a few one-liners, Sweet Karma maintains its gritty realism throughout by injecting a bit of humour and some much welcomed fear into its characters.

Of course, there is also gore and titillation on offer here: a pole-dance to rival any seen on screen before, a shootout in a motel room, a stab in the dark, and a lesson in why you shouldn’t snort cocaine from a hooker’s chest all deliver the required thrills to satisfy any horror fan. However, a slightly bland confrontation in the final act is frustratingly sped-up to hide the two female characters’ lack of fighting abilities, while others, notably the chase scenes, are hurried and lack drama.

Plot-wise, this rivals most of the new wave, with an intriguing twist on the hour mark that gives the movie a welcome boost, even if William (played by John Tokatlidis) lacks enough back-story to gain the viewer’s trust - merely a tool to enable Karma to take that final step forward. The final scene is a tad confusing and does little but add to the short running time, whilst the choice of location could frustratingly be anywhere. In fact, only some forced dialogue about ice hockey halfway through proceedings suggests the drama is unfolding in picturesque Canada and not Russia itself.

Bestowing upon it a gritty authenticity, the absence of a star name works in Sweet Karma’s favour, and while it offers little new to the rape-revenge genre, Shera Bechard’s performance will certainly taunt the hairs on the back of your neck, whilst her killer looks will tease other parts. DW

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