Waking Karma is Female-Driven Coming of Age Horror that Almost Works [Review]

While cultish behavior is the backbone of Waking Karma, the heart of the story is centered upon a coming of age tale. Despite this being one of my favorite sub genres, I often feel this corner of horror is lacking when it comes to female leads.

That’s not the case with this film, as the main focus is Karma (Hannah Christine Shetler) and her transformation within a short time period. I enjoyed seeing her come into her own onscreen and would say that her depiction is one of the strongest aspects of this film.

In the first scenes, viewers are shown glimpses of the past. This includes news clippings and flashbacks related to Karma’s cult-leader father, Paul (Michael Madsen), and his terrible deeds.

The story begins with Karma’s seventeenth birthday. It’s a day spent with her young mother, Sunny (Kimberly Alexander), who escaped the cult to raise her daughter on her own. Not long after the birthday celebration, under threat of her father’s return, Karma and her mother escape their home. Their destination is an off-the-grid wooded compound owned by friends.

It’s not long before what seems like a safe haven turns to a hellish nightmare for Karma. Her father arrives with his right-hand-man and puts Karma and those around her through a series of trials meant to aid in his reincarnation.

While the plot is somewhat predictable, there are a couple of twists which add to the emotion and suspense. Hannah Christine Shetler is the true standout in this cinematic effort. She showcases a lot of range as an actor, and is believable in the role. The film becomes a bit lackluster at times but it was her performance that spurred my continued interest. Madsen also contributes to the overall efficacy and fits the bill as the creepy cult leader, but is not as strong as in previous roles.

See Also: Five Female Directed VHS-Era Films You Should’ve Rented

As mentioned, Karma goes through a coming of age of sorts. She begins as more childlike, dependent upon her mother’s protection, to a heroine that must cast fear aside by the end. This character arc had promise, but felt a bit rushed. I found little to connect with upon Karma’s introduction. While I could empathize with her plight during the height of the action, I think a bit more background would have added to the story.

Viewers should look forward to future films from the writers and directors involved, and Shetler has a promising outlook as an actor. This film has its memorable moments, but as a whole, the film left something to be desired.

Waking Karma is available now on VOD.

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