REVIEW: “Karen” (2021)

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.

Image Courtesy of Quiver Distribution

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?

Image Courtesy of Quiver Distribution

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.


20 thoughts on “REVIEW: “Karen” (2021)

  1. This thing looks like a total cringe-fest, and I hate those. The idea lends itself better to comedy than it does to horror, and in the hands of a better film-maker it could be hilarious. But turning it into a thriller was NOT the best idea. As soon as I saw the trailer, I knew it was one to avoid. I generally don’t judge books by their covers or movies by their trailers, but Karen looked horrendous from the outset. Honestly, I wasn’t expecting anything from a guy named “Coke.” I’m all for bad movies, don’t get me wrong, but most of them come with a certain degree of self-awareness of how bad they are, and they roll with it, which makes them fun. This doesn’t look fun at all. So, yeah, I’m skipping this one.

      • I guess some film-makers don’t have a clue about how to be subtle with what message they’re trying to get across. People generally don’t like being hit over the head with messages in movies. They really don’t, especially with movies that look like a bad Lifetime movie-of-the-week.

      • Right! And while the heavy-handedness is one this, the terrible overall filmmaking and storytelling is another thing altogether. You wouldn’t believe some of the bad dialogue and absurd character bits. WOW.

  2. A movie about fucking Karens. I hate them bitches. I ain’t seeing this shit…

    What will it take for you to watch a movie that is so infuriating and so bad to watch that if you were ever to give it a rating of…. MINUS FIVE-STARS!!!!!!?

    That’s happened to me a few times so far with The Murder of Nicole Simpson being a most recent example.

    • It’s funny you ask that. I have this weird standard to where everything gets some rating. Zero stars isn’t even giving it a score. Therefore 0.5 is the lowest of the low. This is bottom-feeder stuff. 🤣

      • Yeah but there has to be a film so fucking awful in every form that is so infuriating. You realize that a 0.5 star rating isn’t enough. Roger Ebert had given 0 star reviews on films that were beyond horrendous such as his classic review of North.

        I got the idea of MINUS FIVE-STARS! from this legendary review from wrestling podcaster Bryan Alvarez over a wrestling match nearly 20 years ago between Booker T’s wife Sharmell and Jenna Morasca of Survivor that…. oh god… it has to be seen to be believed and wow…. never left my brain but wow…. no wonder it got a MINUS FIVE-STAR rating.

  3. Wow. This sounds like absolute torture. I actually didn’t know your scale went down to half a star! Lol!!!

    Hey, at least the fall movie season is upon us Keith. It’s going to get better. 😉

  4. There are very, VERY few movies that I can say I truly hate. Karen is now one of them. Yeah, I decided to check it out for myself, and I swear I could feel the steam coming out of my ears I was getting so pissed. Not at the subject matter per se, but the absolute incompetence of the film-makers. The director clearly doesn’t have a clue how to make a thriller, let alone how to write dialogue or half-decent characters. This is the kind of topic that would be comedy gold. It really would. Apparently, the director had the audacity to call it a “feel-good” movie. Well, I wasn’t feeling good after watching it.

  5. Pingback: The 5 Worst Movies of 2021 | Keith & the Movies

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