Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Sweet Karma (2009)

Anna Balint (Patricia Stasiak) the sister of mute Karma (Shera Bechard) thinks the nice gangster-looking people she's doing business with are going to fly her from Russia to a nice cleaning job in Toronto. Instead, she disappears into the rather less nice world of the sex slavery trade.

Karma is more than just angry about her sister's fate, especially once a newspaper article about a girl fitting Anna's description that has been found dead in a park in Toronto more than just half convinces her that Anna is dead. Karma sets herself just one goal: find the people responsible for Anna's fate and kill them.

At first, she is quite successful at her goal. Karma kills the slavers' Russian contact, and makes her way to Canada, where she continues her minor killing spree. The vigilante's life becomes more difficult once Karma's enemies have realized that someone is targeting them and become more careful. There is quite a bit of unpleasantness in our heroine's future, and if not for a helpful undercover cop who must have flunked the lesson in police school where they talk about not enabling serial killings and arresting murderers, she might not be able to see her plans through.

Many of the qualities Andrew Thomas Hunt's revenge flick Sweet Karma possesses can best be described by listing the mistakes it doesn't make. Saying a film succeeds more through avoiding bad decisions than making good ones is the sort of thing bound to make a film sound less interesting than it actually is, but there you have it: Sweet Karma is not dumb, it is straightforwardly plotted, it does not drag its feet for most of its running time, it contains action sequences that are cleverly shot and edited around the abilities of its actors without getting grating, it doesn't wallow in its sleazier moments for sleaziness's sake. It is, in other words, a serious exploitation movie in the classic mold.

Generally, serious exploitation films of this type have become few and far between, because most filmmakers interested in the style are either working the ironic re/de-construction circuit or just don't seem to have the chops or the money to make a straight revenge flick like this. Not that Hunt seems to have had all that impressive a budget, but he's milking comparatively simple camera set-ups and seedy locations for what they can provide if you just let them, namely the sort of (probably only seemingly, but I wouldn't know) authentic mood that makes a film's plot automatically more believable.

The camera work goes into the same, hyper-realist direction. Hunt uses grain and lots of handheld camera to further the believability of the motel parking lot world his film takes place in. Since the film evokes the sense and mood of a particular place and time as nicely as it does, it keeps its audience (well, at least me) more willing to go the places it wants them to go, and to buy the elements of its plot that are less easy to buy, like the particularly helpful undercover cop (admittedly, the film does at least try to explain his helpfulness a little, which is as much as one can ask from this sort of thing), or a plot twist that hinges on people not using modern communication devices like letters or telephones.

Unlike a lot of contemporary low budget films, Sweet Karma also features solid acting throughout. One might speculate that there's a reason Shera Bechard's character is mute beyond a nod in the direction of Thriller: A Cruel Picture, but the actress does quite a convincing job working through facial expression and body language alone, so those speculations might be more based on the bad feeling one gets when one reads an actress is Hugh Hefner's girlfriend of the week. The rest of the actors did equally good jobs at convincing me that yes, these people might in fact be Russian slavers.

When it comes to exploitational values, Sweet Karma is one of the milder examples of films containing rape scenes and shot off penises. It's not that the film is all that squeamish about showing us these things, or getting in a bit of female nudity, but Hunt's direction doesn't feel mean-spirited; the film's sympathy seems to lie squarely with the women, and it would need a very firm belief that showing something in your film is the same as approving of it to put Sweet Karma down as misogynist.

So, it's pretty much a film like half of the non-weird exploitation movies of the 70s.


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