Story: Malik (Cory Hardrict) and Imani (Jasmine Burke) have just moved into their dream home, a beautiful house in a great neighborhood. The couple plans to put down roots and start a family, so this should be a joyous time, but there is one problem, Karen (Taryn Manning). Karen lives next door and no sooner does the young couple move in, Karen begins to install security cameras all over the side of house that faces Malik and Imani. Malik has some odd encounters with Karen as well, a tense confrontation over a garbage can and later she tries to lean on him for smoking some weed in his driveway. It is obvious that Karen has a problem with Malik and Imani, but how far would she go to keep the neighborhood the way she wants it to be?
Entertainment Value: Karen is a movie that delivers on the promise of its title, as this is indeed all about a Karen and the entitled chaos they seek to unleash. This movie generated a lot of controversy, as it depicts a white woman tormenting a black couple that movie into her neighborhood, which upset some who felt it was propaganda or sowing racial discord. Neither of those is the case. Karen is rooted in real life, not in general ideas, but in specifics that link back to real life. All of the harmful behavior shown by Karen here is the type of racism and entitlement we see in the real world, day after day. Literally these events, the same ways that Karen targets Malik and Imani, are ones we have seen time and again, only happening to actual people in our communities. The movie does feel a little dialed up, but again, that is a Karen signature so it makes sense and overall, this is a well crafted, effective thriller. The pace is good and the story, while hard to watch, is well written and beyond relevant. Karen is a dark, hard to watch thriller, one that deserves more attention and picks up a recommendation.
There are a wealth of “Karen” videos out there, with people throwing temper tantrums and acting like petulant, entitled children, so Taryn Manning had a lot of options on how to approach this role. I think she nails the part, giving us the kind of Karen that can say the nastiest things to people with a sweet smile on her face, while the tension bubbles under the surface. She doesn’t slow burn, she is awful right out of the gate, but there is a gradual escalation that feels natural, though that process is a little rushed in the finale segments. Even so, Manning gives us a more than capable Karen and keeps her with a sense of menace, which works well. Cory Hardrict is excellent as well, with a natural and authentic performance that sees him cover a range of emotions and reactions. From his early, optimistic run ins with Karen to his horror when he realizes how sick she is, Hardrict is on point here. I also wanted to note Veronika Bozeman, who steals the show during the wild party scene at Imani and Malik’s house. The cast also includes Jasmine Burke, Roger Dorman, Gregory Alan Williams.