Review: A Supernatural Twist Gives Sensationalized Murder Tale THE HAUNTING OF SHARON TATE Some Intrigue
2019 marks the 50th anniversary of what is known as the Tate Murders, arguably the most famous killings of cult leader Charles Manson and his “family”. Actress Sharon Tate was murdered in her Los Angeles home while 8 months pregnant, along with four friends. This year we will see three features highlighting the events of the Manson family including Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon A Time in Hollywood, Mary Harron’s Charlie Says and Daniel Farrands The Haunting of Sharon Tate.
Normally, The Haunting of Sharon Tate would not be something that is personally on my radar. Currently, it seems the entire world’s goal is to consume every piece of true crime imaginable no matter how mundane. I, personally, prefer my horror and crime to be as fictionalized as possible. However, there is an appeal that can’t be denied about some of the most famous true crime in our history. Jack the Ripper, Jeffrey Dahmer, the Zodiac Killer, Ted Bundy, Charles Manson, to name a few, are some of the most horrific and therefore famous killers. We as a society are fascinated by their crimes and have turned them into pop culture icons, for better or for worse. We all know the story of the Manson cult and their crimes, and in particular the brutal killing of a pregnant movie star, Sharon Tate.
The Haunting of Sharon Tate pulls its inspiration from an old interview with Tate and celebrity columnist Dick Kleiner, where she described having a dream of being murdered two years prior to her death. Writer and director Daniel Farrnads took this interview and the real-life documentation of the murders and spun it into the home invasion true crime horror we see on screen.
It’s obvious Farrands feels comfortable in the relationship between reality and fiction in the world of film. His directing repertoire includes a slew of Making-Of-Horror documentaries such as 2009’s His Name Was Jason: 30 Years of Friday the 13th, 2010’s Never Sleep Again: The Elm Street Legacy and 2011’s Scream: The Inside Story. His first foray into a scripted feature still takes notes, even if lightly, from real life with 2018’s The Amityville Murders based on the real-life DeFeo family. With this history, it is no surprise that he would take on the famous Manson murders and put a horror spin on it.
Former Disney teen-queen and current Younger actress Hilary Duff plays our titular character, Sharon Tate with a supporting cast of young attractive D-listers including Mean Girl’s Jonathan Bennett and Lydia Hearst. Duff didn’t have to reach far for her performance as a pregnant Tate as the star was pregnant with her second child during filming.
The film’s narrative takes its liberty with twists and turns from the story we are all familiar with. This allows this real-life true crime into a home invasion blood fest. It’s refreshing in the fact that it allows for some surprises for the viewer. We are allowed to see a different outcome of the story through Tate’s premonitions and nightmares. However, this is also the greatest downside to the film as the extreme violence seems exploitative and disrespectful to the real-life victims.
The shining light of the film is Duff as a scared, isolated pregnant woman. Pregnancy can be an extremely isolating experience for any woman in a normal situation. Amplify this feeling with a woman who finds herself nearing her due date with a husband a country away and casual friends as the caretakers of herself and her home. Throw in a cult that continues to visit your home believing you are someone else and the fear for your safety would be debilitating. Every moment that focuses on this fear and isolation, the torment that something bad might happen to not just Tate but her unborn child, is great.
This film falters, there is no denying that. The acting is subpar from the entire cast, in particular, Duff’s attempt at Tate’s sultry accent is distracting in its fluctuation and takes away from her otherwise good performance. But its main flaw is trying to get over the sensationalization of these real-life murders. The horror of isolation and fear captured is what works best in this script but it would have been more successful if it wasn’t tangled up in a true crime most viewers are very familiar with. It’s hard to not get pulled out of the film with the realization and consequent sickness that this is what happened and didn’t happen, to a very real group of people. But perhaps in this age of true crime obsession, we are left with wondering where to draw the line when fictionalizing the stories of pop culture’s favorite psychos.