The Haunting of Sharon Tate Movie Review by Staci Layne Wilson
I think everyone has asked themselves how their lives might have turned out differently if they’d done one thing instead of another. What if I didn’t go to that party where I met my spouse? Should I have moved away after all? What if I’d never had children? Or if I got that job I really wanted? Would life be better, worse, or the same? Is there such a thing as fate?
Nine-months pregnant, missing her philandering husband who’s away working overseas, and holed up in a spooky, isolated house in the rugged Hollywood Hills, 26-year-old Sharon Tate (Hilary Duff) is second-guessing her own life decisions. But she’s trying to make the most of the disconcerting situation by surrounding herself with friends – hairdresser to the stars Jay Sebring (Jonathan Bennett), small-time actor Wojciech Frykowski (Pawel Szajda), and coffee heiress Abigail Folger (Lydia Hearst, an heiress herself) – while trying not to let her vivid nightmares get the better of her on those long, hot August nights.
The Haunting of Sharon Tate is a “what if?” dark fantasy inspired by one of the most horrifying, hair-raising and indelible crime stories of the 20th century: The Manson Family Murders. While some viewers may reasonably argue that taking advantage of actual evil for entertainment purposes is exploitative, I will say in its defense that The Haunting of Sharon Tate is a) mostly respectful to the victims, in spite of the fact that their agonizing deaths are brutally depicted, and b) it’s highly fictionalized… the filmmaker even cites Poe’s famous “Dream within a dream” quote before kicking into the action.
If you’re not too turned off by the subject matter, then there are lots of things to like about this movie. First of all, the casting is great. I couldn’t really see Duff as Tate when I first heard she’d been cast, but she pulls it off beautifully. She has to go through the wringer, especially during the haunting, hallucinatory-sequences and the actual slaying, but she also gets to shine like a normal, everyday girl from Dallas who’s genuinely likable, down-to-earth, and excited about being a new mom. Szajda is a standout as Frykowski, but I think my favorite person in the movie is Ryan Cargill as Steven Parent. He’s the hapless kid who, by just a narrow margin, happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. Poor Parent is usually all but forgotten in this whole story when it comes to other movies and shows, so I liked getting to know him better. While I am not sure if he ever met Sharon and his fellow victims in real life, in reel life he does.
Writer-director by Daniel Farrands (The Amityville Murders, another chiller based on a vintage massacre) does an admirable job of making the atmosphere sound unsettling, particularly with music that sounds Mansonesque (I’ve only ever heard one song of his: Look at Your Game, Girl), a scratchy reel-to-reel tape sliding through metal cogs, winds through the dry grass, and animal howls… not to mention blood-curdling screams in the night. There’s also an authentic visual context in the form of wide shots over Benedict Canyon, in and around a typical Old Hollywood hacienda, and archival footage of Sharon Tate at her wedding.
While most Manson-based movies focus on the crazed killers, The Haunting of Sharon Tate treats them as peripheral shadow-figures. I think that’s pretty refreshing. If you’re a true crime buff and you think you’ve seen it all, give this flick a chance – it will surprise you and make you think: What if?
The Haunting of Sharon Tate is now playing in limited release and will be available on Blu-Ray, DVD and Digital on June 4, 2019.