Fresh, beautiful blends of science fiction time travel and spiritualism

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Although the dialogue is regularly short in the big moments when the film tries to get too heady, the story is bold enough to keep one invested.

karmalink combines spiritualism and technology with a dark children’s adventure film with honed production value. Writer-director Jake Wachtel (the stranger) – who co-wrote the screenplay with Christopher Larsen – made a gorgeous film with a distinctive genre narrative. Although the dialogue is regularly short in the big moments when the film tries to get too heady, the story is bold enough to keep one invested. The performances are all very likeable, and every line is delivered with earnestness. For a movie set in the near future, the style and execution is seamless and complements the sets perfectly.

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In a futuristic Cambodia, augmented nanotechnology offers limitless possibilities to those who can afford it. In soon-to-be-gentrified Phnom Penh, the capital’s longtime residents are fighting to keep their homes. Among the resident’s youngsters are two unlikely new friends, Leng Heng (Leng Heng Prak) and Srey Leak (Srey Leak Chhith). Leng Heng dreams of a different life and knows that nanotechnology can bring him closer to uncovering the mysteries of a lost treasure. Srey Leak is out of luck and is eager to fine-tune the machinery needed to partner with his information. The creator of the technology, Dr. Vattanak Sovann (Sahajak Boonthanakit) aims to push the boundaries of what it means to connect with one’s past. When Leng Heng and Srey Leak meet his disciple, the rules of reality and time begin to bend uncontrollably.


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The visual effects in karmalink are superb. The screens that appear when people use nanotechnology and the visuals on iPads that track brain function while people use them are nothing out of the ordinary. But the overall CGI integration blends in with the backgrounds and lighting to give the experience a realistic feel. The time shifts show aerial bombardments that are as visceral as they are well executed. Planes from the past seem looming as they descend, and futuristic planes from the current timeline match the rest of the set design and elevate it.


Director of photography Robert Leitzell (Black bear) gives each practical shot exactly the right amount of realism a sci-fi movie needs to be grounded. The film opens with a long filmed scene and offers gorgeous visuals, like a spinning Buddhist temple with rainbows and wide reflections. All this is done practically. The camera slowly follows an image of two people meditating as deities follow them. Rainbows are so high off the ground that the resulting shadow literally takes the photo to new heights. These little flourishes, alongside the rest of the production design, make every minute of karmalink feel like a different universe. However, the film is far from perfect.



Cindy Sirinya Bishop in Karmalink
Cindy Sirinya Bishop in Karmalink

by Karmalink the main problem is getting your message across. Although the film avoids the well-trodden territory of consuming preaching technology, it doesn’t seem to have an opinion on the matter at all. The film’s deepest themes are awkwardly executed in monologues delivered by Boonthanakit (Only God forgives). These moments would be even more confusing without the actor’s charisma. The dialogue involves a great sense of self-realization on the part of the character, but is never articulated with ease. When Boonthanakit and Leng Heng meet at the film’s climax, all goodwill for a children’s adventure story goes out the window. The whole quasi-mystery of technology is poorly explained. And perhaps most unforgivable, the storyline goes around the wagons again trying to get deep. Apparently, the film’s thesis ends up looking like a bad action movie instead of a high-caliber sci-fi picture. For a film with time travel and past lives, karmalink is more confusing in an office speaking directly to the viewer.


That said, viewers probably haven’t seen a movie like karmalink. Children go on a trans-dimensional treasure hunt to encounter the living manifestation of the world’s most advanced technology. It’s been done before, but not in this world and not with a genuine search for spiritualism guiding every character’s decisions. Cambodia as a backdrop also gives the film a new meaning that should remind all filmmakers that there are cities other than Los Angeles and New York. But at the end of the film, we are left with more questions than answers, and not necessarily in a good way. While the performances are all very enjoyable, the dialogues undercut the storyline. Despite this, however, karmalink is unique, introspective and beautifully flawed.

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karmalink hits theaters and on-demand on July 15. The film is unrated.

Our assessment:

3.5 out of 5 (very good)

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