Waking Karma (2022)

Michael Madsen as a cult leader?  Sign me up.

With heavy bouts of paranoia and suspense, Waking Karma eventually finds its footing as the story of one young girl’s fate at the hands of her estranged father . . . a cult leader who works from the shadows to prepare her for the ultimate journey into the dark consequences of an inheritance that nobody wants.  Maybe too one-dimensional for its own good with regard to its characters, but the strong performances from Madsen and Hannah Christine Shetler carry this one over the finish line.

"With heavy bouts of paranoia and suspense"

Erasing someone from your past is not easily done.  That’s the opening message in filmmakers Liz Fania Werner and Carlos Montaner's dark thriller, which is being released by XYZ Films on January 26. 

Waking Karma opens with an eerie scene from Sunny (Kimberly Alexander) and her days amongst a dangerous cult as she is being prepared for some heinous activity.  She’s a young girl in these flashbacks, but the film combines her shocking deed with, in the present, her daughter’s birthday and - all too soon - we understand that things are STILL not well with her. 

Everything is mysterious in that opening scene (as it should be, piquing our interest) and, coupled with some quotes from Oedipus, Charles Manson, and an otherworldly song about “The Vessel” being strong, it works in unison to create an odd mood, which the remainder of the movie - until we arrive in the compound - can’t quite get out from under.  We know something is up in Waking Karma, but the suspects are all too soon gathered and identified. 

Sure, the film’s mood has the stalkery bit down and the religious fanaticism angle is nicely worked into its folds - thanks to award-winning actor Michael Madsen (The Hateful Eight, Kill Bill, Species) - but Waking Karma isn’t quite telling the story we want it to as the early events - especially with some of the beats with Sunny and her daughter - overplay their hand a bit too strongly and those opening bonding scenes between mother and daughter leave us suspecting that things are not as they seem.

And they aren’t. Waking Karma (2022)

Filmmakers Carlos Montaner and Liz Fania Werner play around with paranoia in a remote compound as Karma (Hannah Christine Shetler) finds herself the target of her cult leader father’s quest for immortality.  You see, Paul (Madsen) is dying and he needs a vessel with which to transfer his spirit into.  Why not use his daughter’s body?  The shocking betrayal by all involved is not so shocking as one young girl discovers what her true purpose is.

This is the psychologically destructive territory of the movie; however, too much of it is told to us, rather than shown.  It’s there in the performance of Alexander and it’s there in the stark atmosphere which never leaves us comfortable.  Things are not to be trusted and this journey into the unknown begins when the two women must flee to a friend’s remote compound.  Another warning to us. 

Something is up.  And, as Paul closes in on them, the truth is revealed.  Karma is his, but first she must be tested - and, yes, these tests are truly disturbing - in order to bend her to his will. 

This is one hell of an inheritance! 

With a script written by Werner, Waking Karma stars Michael Madsen, Hannah Christine Shelter, Kimberly Alexander, and Bradley Fisher. It is produced by Edgar Romero and Aldo Jovan Diaz, and John Ferraro of Valleywood Entertainment.  It begins streaming on digital platforms in late January.

3/5 stars

Film Details

Waking Karma (2022)

MPAA Rating: Unrated.

: Carlos Montaner; Liz Fania Werner; Stewart Hopewell
Liz Fania Werner
Michael Madsen; Hannah Christine Shetler; Kimberly Alexander
: Thriller | Horror

Memorable Movie Quote:
XYZ Films
Official Site:
Release Date:
January 26, 2023
DVD/Blu-ray Release Date:

Synopsis: Karma and her mother have spent their lives evading Paul, her cult leader father (Michael Madsen). With Paul closing in as Karma reaches adulthood, she and her mother flee to a friend’s remote compound.Paul tracks them there and traps them within its walls, putting Karma through a series of escalating tests designed to break her spirit and awaken an unholy inheritance that lives within her.


Waking Karma (2022)