Karla Homolka not as bad as once thought

Coming on the heels of Saw II, the $20 million opening of Hostel proves that there’s a new trend afoot in Hollywood these days. Gory, low budget horror movies featuring no-name stars have reaped huge profits as of late, and the trend appears likely to continue.

Lionsgate, the studio behind those two films is releasing the similarly themed See No Evil in May, and the ending to Saw II was ambiguous enough to leave room for a third entry. I’ve seen both these films, and I don’t think I’m any more likely to lock a bunch of strangers in a crack house filled with nerve gas or set up a torture chamber in Eastern Europe than I was before. I’m mystified that the implications of these movies’ success have been largely ignored while scorn has been heaped on a far milder spectacle: the soon to be released film Karla.

As most Canadians probably know, Karla tells the story of our nation’s most notorious female serial killer. Though it’s unlikely to dethrone Citizen Kane, the movie is supposed to be quite good; well acted, serious, and free of gratuitous violence. Everything, in other words, that movies like Saw II and Hostel are not. Thus the question arises of why it’s the movie that’s generating all the controversy.

The stock response is that Karla inappropriately deals with a real-life murderer. Be that as it may, however, the film makers have changed her victims’ names and don’t show any of the actual atrocities committed against them. A movie like Saw II is hardly realistic–most serial killers don’t have grand moral designs like Jigsaw’s–but the events that occur within it aren’t completely unfathomable as real world ones either. The people behind it may have been inspired as much by Karla Homolka’s crimes as those behind Karla were.

There the two groups part. It’s unlikely the people behind the Saw films and Hostel had any motive for making them other than the financial. They’re certainly not auteurs interested in film for its own sake, and they’re not trying to impart any moral that I can discern (with the possible exception that travelling Americans should be wary of Eastern European women). I imagine that the people who made Karla probably anticipated the hostility they would encounter and soldiered on nonetheless. Maybe they did so because they really do have a message to reveal about the folly of plea bargains, or the need to provide more support to battered women… or something.

Now that’s only a “maybe” and whatever the case, most–if any– of the people who go to see Karla will feel a renewed sense of urgency about those problems upon leaving the theatre. But I don’t think that anybody will feel a desire to duplicate Homolka’s deeds after seeing it either. If its critics genuinely believe that movies can influence people to do such things, they’re focusing on the wrong film.

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