Ever have one of those occasions where you do something that makes you immediately question your own judgement? I’m talking about something so ill-advised; so glaringly unwise. Something that you should know better than to do, yet you do it anyway. I recently had one of those occasions. What did I do you may ask? I watched “Karen”.
In my paper-thin defense, I didn’t really go into “Karen” expecting something great. I honestly thought it might be one of those “so bad it’s good” kind of experiences. Nope. It’s a full-blown “so bad it’s just bad” movie that left me speechless more than once. Not because of some bold, audacious filmmaking or a shocking unexpected plot twist. No, I was left dumbstruck by the sheer amount of awfulness that somehow made its way from the script through the editing process and onto the screen.
Written and directed by Coke Daniels, “Karen” never conceals its intentions for one minute. You can’t miss its bludgeoning message which is nailed into every scene. You also can’t miss the complete lack of inspired storytelling, the astonishingly bad dialogue, or characters so poorly conceived that it’s impossible to connect with them in any meaningful way.
The story is as simple as a young African-American couple moving into an uppity all-white Atlanta suburb where they’re terrorized by their whack-job racist neighbor. That’s the movie in a nutshell. The neighbor’s name is Karen, which is not only the name of the movie but also a play on the goofy pejorative term for an entitled and privileged white woman. But if you missed that connection don’t worry. There’s a character who spells it out for us at least three times throughout the movie. “She’s a Karen whose name is Karen,” he says again and again and again. Yes, we get it.
The couple is Malik (Cory Hardrict) who runs an area community center and his wife Imani (Jasmine Burke) who is a stay-at-home blogger. They’re a weirdly out-of-tune pair whose naïveté is only outdone by their lack of awareness. They meet their new next door neighbor Karen (Taryn Manning) in the opening scene and it’s obvious that she’s a little nuts. It only takes a few more scenes to see that she’s completely deranged. Yet Malik and Imani are continually shocked and caught off-guard by Karen’s creepy and offensive antics.
The character of Karen doesn’t fare much better. Daniels leaves nothing to the imagination, fully revealing her to be a hyper-bigoted lunatic from the start. Within fifteen minutes there is nothing left for us to learn about her – no mystery, no surprises. Karen is a cartoonishly unhinged and irredeemable racist from start to finish. Daniels tries to amp up her nastiness, but it’s kinda hard when she has already done so many horrible things. I mean is the confederate flag on her bathroom soap dispenser supposed to reveal anything that we didn’t learn earlier when she had two men kicked out of a restaurant simply because they were black?
The movie only gets worse the longer it goes, even throwing in a numbingly awful police brutality angle that’s as poorly handled as anything I’ve seen on screen in a long time. It’s one of several instances where the movie takes a sensitive hot topic and butchers it rather than giving its audience something to chew on. It doesn’t help that no one in the movie feels like, acts like or talks like a real person. So any theme the film might want to explore is lost in messiness and absurdity.
I’ll be honest, “Karen” is so bad that I started trying to redefine it as a satire or even a parody of some kind. But no, this thing really takes itself seriously. The performances are terrible, in large part because the cast is working with one of the worse scripts of the year. The dialogue is quite literally cringe-worthy, and it will have you sitting in stunned amazement (not a good thing). And the story pours everything it has into its lone gimmick, one that never deviates from its bland one-note track. So that leaves us with a ham-fisted social justice thriller minus the thrills and with nothing engaging to say about either society or justice. “Karen” is now available on VOD.