Barbie and Ken, idols of blond plastic-doll perfection, are forever branded in our minds as the ultimate manufactured couple. They cruise around in her pink 'vette, come home to their dream townhouse, and never do you suspect they might be considering drugging Barbie's sister and raping her while recording it on video.
Yeah, well, sorta. That was real life couple Karla Homolka and Paul Bernardo's sick scenario. Dubbed the "Barbie and Ken" killers, they were the perfect vision of '80s Anglo young love, mall bangs and all.
When we meet Karla (Laura Prepon, That '70s Show), she's already served eight years in the clink for kidnapping and raping several girls including her sister. She's up for parole. Dr. Arnold (Patrick Bauchau, Twin Peaks) interviews her to evaluate whether she should be released. She answers his questions almost matter-of-factly and with a sort of detached third-person perspective of events, we see a clumsy series of flashbacks that make up Karla's structure.
From the beginning, Karla appears unstable and clueless of her own twisted fate. She first meets Paul (Misha Collins) at a veterinary conference and quickly falls for his unusual charm; almost immediately she takes him back to her hotel to fuck.
Little does she know that Paul's responsible for a series of rapes in Scarborough, Ontario. A simple one-night stand becomes one of those bonds rooted in fear and insecurity that goes beyond co-dependency. Karla's jealous streak is only matched by an unwavering desire to keep Paul her man, no matter what. So when he begins to focus on Karla's virginal sister, Tammy, Karla does the unthinkable and offers her up as a sort of Christmas present. The gift-giving goes horribly wrong and her sister dies from the combination of knock-out drugs they'd given her. This triggers a series of repugnant kidnappings, murders and recorded rapes in which Karla actively partakes.
But why'd she do it? It's a question that goes unanswered here. Maybe she was a Tammy "Stand by Your Man" Wynette fan? Or was she so entrenched in these false images of a perfect life that she disconnected from all reality? Without any insight into her childhood or family life, Karla remains a cipher of feminine psychosis.
What Karla does achieve is a certain lurid quality. Anyone who's seen the episode of HBO's Autopsy that featured some of Paul and Karla's actual video footage can attest to the creepy accuracy of the re-creations in Karla. The cast (who are dead ringers for the real deal) amplify the voyeuristic quality; it's not just superficial Misha Collins and especially Laura Prepon inhabit their characters fully, with frightening realism. It's no small feat, and why Karla is better than most true-crime biopics. Here's a disturbing twist on the all-American couple living out their suburban dream.
Opens Friday, March 16, at the Main Art Theatre (118 N. Main St., Royal Oak; 248-263-2111).
Paul Knoll writes about film for Metro Times. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.