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July 31, 2021

The Haunting of Sharon Tate (2019) Movie Review

Okay, hear me out. This is not my usual fare, here or on my own website. But to give you a quick backstory, I found a YouTuber who reviews bad films and inserts comedic material (commentary and green screen stuff – it’s pretty hilarious. Jamie French, look her up.). She does more wholesome, family friendly stuff and Hilary Duff is the subject of at least three of these reviews.

Yes, Lizzie McGuire herself (though I never watched any of the LM stuff as I was already a grown-ass woman when that came out and not the demographic target).

Anyhoo, Jamie comments multiple times that Hilary isn’t all that bad an actress. I would agree for the most part but I wanted to see her in something a little more heavy, dramatic, and serious. Amazon Prime is streaming the movie I’m reviewing and I gotta say, Hilary did not deserve the Razzie she received for her work in it.

Let’s break it down a bit, shall we? Though, in not-like-me fashion at all, I will do my best to not reveal any spoilers, though this film is based on the Manson Murders so I think most of us know what the hell happens, right?

First you have to understand that this film’s story is based on two untruths – Sharon Tate’s premonition about her death, and the five victims not being murdered at all. Keep those in mind as we discuss the film, okay?

Second, because of these liberties in storytelling, lots of people, including Sharon’s sister, have decried the film as “classless” and “exploitative”. And in a sense that’s true. It seemed a lot of folks were trying to cash in on the 50th anniversary of the murders. Perhaps writer/director Daniel Farrands could have waited to film his vision, or at least release it earlier/later, depending on when he wrote it.

I can’t disagree with any of the victims’ surviving families and friends on any of their criticisms. I have never had someone I loved viciously murdered by a gang of doped up fuckwads manipulated into action by one of the biggest megalomaniacal psychotics to ever exist. But at the same time, I can appreciate what Farrands was trying to do with his film. He wanted to take the focus away from The Family and focus on the victims, to give them the power instead.

The story veers from historical events like this: In the days leading up to her murder, Sharon is having nightmares and premonitions about her pending death. Though her friends chalk it up to the hormonal imbalances produced by pregnancy, and missing her husband, she can’t shake the feeling that her hallucinations, nightmares, and the almost intrusive musical recording of some guy, Charlie, are all linked.

When The Family does infiltrate the house, planning to murder everyone, Sharon and her friends turn the tables on the intruders. They fight back, get the jump on their would-be killers, and kill them instead. They survive the horrific night and get to continue on with their lives.

At least, until the closing scene. Alternate reality or not, there’s only so far Farrands will go before we all remember what really happened that night 52 years ago. And he brings us slamming back to reality with one of the most heartbreaking final shots I’ve seen in a film in a long time.

From what I’ve read from an interview with Farrands, and he brings this idea up in the dialog of the movie several times, he wanted to explore an alternate reality in regard to the murders.

“My version of the story is set in an alternate reality that asks questions about fate, destiny, and whether or not we have control over the ‘script’ of our lives.”

I think we all do this from time to time, playing the ‘what if’ game to determine if different choices would result in different outcomes. I don’t think he was trying to be disrespectful, or exploitative in any way. Farrands had no interest in Manson and The Family, and did not make their lifestyle or philosophies come off as sexy or interesting (which lots of filmmakers have done to the disgust of the rest of us).

It may seem like I’m defending Farrands because he created such a brilliant film. Um, not really. The film isn’t that great, to be honest. Just over 90 minutes felt too long, probably because he started with a false narrative and had to expand it will filler and slow-mo shots to get it to feature length. The pacing dragged (probably because of the aforementioned padding) which pulls you out of the story.

That said, the nightmare sequence Sharon experiences is absolutely horrifying and I found myself crying because, as we all know, those terrible things happened in real life. But I think it was the final shot, after they 'lived', that truly broke my heart. It's a scene that has stayed with me since I watched the film.

Also I have to say the acting was top notch. Hilary and Jonathan Bennet, who played Jay Sebring, were the best parts of the movie. It's nice to see Hilary broaden her acting experience. I'm not saying she's Meryl Streep or Helen Mirren, but she has definitely stretched her tween rom-com wings into adulthood.

If you have the chance to watch this movie, do it. It probably won't end up on your list of classic films or something you can watch over and over. But the idea explored in the film are worth looking at and Farrands does a good job of showing us what might have been.

3 Hatchets (out of 5)

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