A third generation of Van Peebles van peebles his way through this SyFy movie about the misdeeds of the past coming back to haunt you. Maybe this is the family’s penance for Jaws: The Revenge? Too soon? In truth, Karma isn’t Jaws IV-awful; it’s at worst SyFy mediocre. And frankly, by SyFy’s Sharknado-y standards, it’s actually kinda almost…good?
The film stars Mandela “Not Too Much Pressure From That Name” Van Peebles as Manny, an aspiring engineer who’s living with his wife Alicia (Brytni Sarpy) in his in-laws’ basement while he tries to find a full-time job. In the meantime, he’s working for Alicia’s morally dubious father Frank (Tim Russ) evicting delinquent tenants from their homes.
The latest eviction turns out to be an old high school buddy of Manny’s, Kevin (Kanoa Goo), whose mother is on her deathbed…and that deathbed is inside the house that Manny is kicking him out of. Manny is wracked with guilt but wants to make a good impression on his demanding father-in-law, so he goes through with the eviction. Kevin delivers one of those “horror movie warnings” promising Manny that he’ll regret it, and before you can say “Sonny Spoon,” karma begins to kick him in the teeth — from car problems to hauntings by shadowy figures and fatal mishaps befalling those around him. It turns out this karma is an actual malevolent entity that attaches itself to people who do shitty things. If only this happened in real life.
Karma’s plot is simple, but it keeps things interesting by packing in elements of “curse” films like Drag Me to Hell, haunted house fare and Final Destination-styled “accident porn,” making for a fast-moving, engaging and at times legitimately creepy watch — with an inventive and gleefully gory kill to boot. The story falls apart by the end, though, as writer Daniel Gilboy (I Spit on Your Grave: Vengeance is Mine) himself seems to not know how to defeat the evil and comes up with a solution that seems to contradict what happened earlier.
The whole “asshole curse” is an intriguing concept that makes you wonder how sinful the act has to be in order to inherit the affliction. Is cutting off someone in traffic bad enough? Laughing at a Tim Allen sitcom? Engaging in any activity that would label you a “truther”? How about leaving your shopping cart in the middle of a parking space when there’s clearly a corral FIVE FEET AWAY, YOU LAZY SWINE I GOT YOUR LICENSE PLATE NUMBER AND WILL TRACK YOU DOWN TO YOUR HOUSE AND BURN IT TO THE GROUND WITH YOU INSIDE DAMMIT NOW I HAVE THE ASSHOLE CURSE TOO.
Anyway, the direction from veteran filmmaker Nick Simon (The Girl in the Photographs, Removal, 2 Lava 2 Lantula, Truth or Dare) is solid, delivering more frights than you’d expect in a SyFy movie of the week, and the cast performs with daytime soap opera competency, which is really all you need for this type of film. Van Peebles’ chiseled features replicate his father’s leading man looks, but the charisma doesn’t quite come through — granted, the character of Manny doesn’t really call for much charisma. This isn’t a full-fledged haunted house flick, but it’s close enough, and as I’ve noted before, you haven’t historically seen many black families at the center of those types of stories, so in this instance, Karma is very much welcome.