Coke Daniels explores the current racial climate in his new film Karen, from Quiver Distribution. Karen Drexler (Taryn Manning), a racist white woman who makes it her personal mission to displace the new Black family that has just moved in next door to her. Community activist Malik (Cory Hardrict) and his wife Imani (Jasmine Burke) are the couple who have just moved to the Atlanta suburb, but they will not be backing down without a fight.
If you are unfamiliar with the term “Karening”, it is defined as a pejorative slang term for an obnoxious, angry, entitled, and often-racist middle-aged white woman who uses her privilege to get her way or police other people’s behaviors. Coke Daniels introduces our title character as she is scrubbing away a street mural with the term “Black Lives Matter”. My initial thoughts on the film after this scene, was that Daniels was going to utilize the reverse chronology technique but instead, he uses linear storytelling.
Our introduction to Malik and Imani comes, as they are moving into their new home in an all-white community. From the onset of meeting them, Karen does not like her new neighbors due to the color of their skin. Malik and Imani initially try to follow the motto of being neighborly and turning the other cheek, but Karen just cannot leave well enough. We soon learn that Karen is the president of the HOA and attempts to use this to her advantage against them. She scolds the couple for leaving their trashcan on the curb, and even approaches Malik while he smokes in his car.
Karen’s racist ways even extend to the local community when she has two Black patrons removed from a restaurant for talking too loud, and later profiles three young adults at a local park. The latter event leads to Karen calling the police, because she feels threatened, which causes a domino effect that sets the second half of the film in motion.
I have liked Taryn Manning as a supporting actress, going all the way back to Crazy/Beautiful. In the lead role, Manning does a decent job of fully encompassing the behavior of a “Karen”. From the bad make up to the dialect she uses when she brings up All Lives Matter during a Black Lives Matter conversation, to when she discusses why Malik and Imani should not be in her community. In the roles of Malik and Imani, Cory Hardrict and Jasmine Burke do not just portray victims. Despite some clunky dialogue between the two, I enjoyed them. Daniels attempts to give them a strong arc and paints a good picture of a Black couple just trying to make it in this crazy world.
That said, I do get the angle that Daniels was going for with the film, however my issues come into play with the overall execution. There are few ideas that are briefly mentioned, like the covert brotherhood of the cops and just how high it goes that should have been explored more. Numerous incidents we have seen from the last year also play out in the movie in scenes that leads to some editing and pacing issues. When the reason for Karen’s racist behavior arrives, it does not land the way that it should. Before the reveal, we learn that Karen grew up in a bigoted household, so the angle of learned behavior would have worked better than the actual reveal. Karen also has a racist cop brother (Roger Dorman) who is simply a walking caricature.
The last fifteen minutes of the movie is when Karen shows the most promise, as it then becomes a thriller. Had Daniels taken the approach of a Lifetime movie or say Lakeview Terrace perhaps, he would have a stronger final film overall. Furthermore, when we get a cameo from a real life civil rights attorney, it comes off as forced and not sincere.
Overall, I did not find Karen as a triggering movie nor do I think it is one of the worst of the year. Therefore, I do not fully recommend Karen to mainstream film fans, but those who enjoy those neighbors from hell movies may enjoy it.
Final Grade: C-
Karen is available to stream on BET+ and Amazon