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Fantastic Fest Review: Sweet Karma

By  · Published on September 27th, 2009


If I were asked to put together the perfect man night, by whom I don’t know, it would inevitably involve Jack Daniels, local Austin beef ribs the size of a cruise ship, and a 70’s revenge film. I love the ever-living hell out of movies like Death Wish, Lady Snowblood, Get Carter, and Thriller: A Cruel Picture (also known as They Call Her One Eye). The film Taken actually feels like a throwback to the balls-to-the-wall revenge films of the era and I will watch that movie at the drop of a hat (that is, if I really want to take revenge on you for dropping my hat). Sweet Karma, by all rights, should have been something I loved for exactly the same reason. I’m getting ahead of myself.

Sweet Karma is the story of a gorgeous, mute girl from Russia whose sister gets lured into the world of sex trafficking. With this film on my agenda the same day as The Legend is Alive, sufficed to say I have had my fill of sex trade films….today. She infiltrates this seedy world wherein girls are promised jobs as housekeepers but are forced to either become strippers or hookers upon the threat of their families’ lives. The girl, named Karma, seeks less to discover the details behind her sister’s disappearance as punish anyone and everyone involved in the process with extreme prejudice. Will she be able to Liam Neeson her way through the underworld or will she become just another victim?

I loved this movie until the ending. It was flawed, sure, but it was also an amazing revenge ride. We are given nefarious characters with all requisite nastiness so that our baser instincts kick in and we root for their gory demise. Seriously, these people are the scum that sucks the scum off the lowest scum of society and mistreating women is a personal hot button with me so I was cheering each time Karma sent these bastards to their makers. I mentioned They Call Her One Eye because this film is so much an homage that it is practically a remake. In One Eye, Christina Lindberg plays a mute girl who gets tricked into becoming a prostitute and suffers horrendous sexual abuse before finally snapping and liquidating all who stand in the way of her freedom. Yes, it is the sister character in this film but it would be farcical to assume the similarities are merely a coincidence. All the things I love about They Call Her One Eye are alive and well here so it stands to reason that I would love Sweet Karma.

Not to mention the fact that lead actress Shera Bechard is jaw-droppingly hot. She was actually here at the Festival and before anyone even realized who she was, heads were turning and movie geeks where rediscovering their long-dormant asthma problems. I am not going to pretend like I didn’t love watching her stripping scene, but her beauty is more than just aesthetic. Her character needs to be able to lure these evil, but ultimately simple, men into situations where they are vulnerable so that she can exact her revenge. I did not for a single moment fail to believe that these gangster types would follow her into the mouth of hell if it meant the possibility of touching her. So gorgeous and lethal lead character, it again stands to reason that I would love Sweet Karma.

I loved Sweet Karma until the very end. It has an ending so utterly nonsensical that it completely destroys the entire film. I don’t want to ruin it, but sufficed to say that the film totally turns around on itself and begins to wag a finger in the face of the audience for enjoying everything they’ve just seen. I’m all for challenging the idea of revenge, but the warped moral compass displayed by the ending of this film illustrates the screen writer’s ineptitude. Even if you agree with the direction the ending takes, it points out enormous plot holes that ruin any validity the script may have had. I know this sounds hopelessly vague, but I will not resort to spoilers just because I have a problem with a film. I will almost guarantee however that if you are a fan of 70’s revenge films, you will agree that this ending is a giant stone dragging down all of the film’s potential.

There are other qualms I have with the flick, but until the ending I was prepared to forgive them. For example, there is a weird structure in the storytelling as it pertains to her progression into hardcore killer. Her very first kill is not fancy, but it gets the job done. Her second kill is methodically planned and perfectly executed so it would be natural to assume her third would be something phenomenal. But no, it’s actually very haphazard and sloppy. Truth be told from that point on, all the kills are satisfying but utterly disorganized. Wouldn’t it stand to reason that she would get progressively better at it as the film moved along? You know, like the progression that exists in every other revenge film wherein a regular person is pushed to extreme circumstances. Beyond that, the girl fight scene was comically bad; needlessly sped up and featuring shaky cinematography that makes that of Bourne Supremecy seem as if it were using a tripod. But again, it’s mainly the ending that kills this movie. This is an avoidable film. I would only check it out on DVD if it features night-and-day alternate endings.

The Upside: Starts off as a badass, 70’s-style revenge flick featuring one of the hottest strip scenes on film.

The Downside: The ending sucks the life out of the piece.

On The Side: She is every bit as hot in person.

Grade: C

Longtime FSR columnist, current host of FSR’s Junkfood Cinema podcast. President of the Austin Film Critics Association.