There is no real way to talk about The Haunting of Sharon Tate without spoiling it — and if the fact that I could “spoil” a movie inspired by one of the most famous murder cases ever, the 1969 massacre of Sharon Tate and her friends by the Manson Family, confuses you, you’re 100% correct. You should be confused. Heck — I’m confused, and I’ve seen it! Suffice it to say, the premise of the film merely uses history as a starting point, but it’s the endpoint that matters. And that endpoint sure is a doozy. So I’ma drop a zesty SPOILER ALERT right here at the top before going any further. If you’re interested in watching a movie about the murder of Sharon Tate that is somehow not about the murder of Sharon Tate, then stop reading this and go watch the movie (in theaters and On Demand right now!). But if you want to know more, spoilers be damned, then stick with me because y’all: I have thoughts.
The film charts the last 3 days in the life of Sharon Tate (Hilary Duff) — and like many a film about a real person meeting their tragic end, it takes some dramatic license along the way. Only instead of just sketching in some details with imaginary flair, it drops a big fat “What If?” over the entire affair. WHAT IF Sharon experienced premonitions, visions, and nightmares about the coming attack? WHAT IF she took that foreknowledge and used it to save herself and her friends? WHAT IF instead of being killed, Sharon and her guests killed the intruders instead? WHAT IF our fates aren’t written in stone? WHAT IF we can change our destiny, one small choice at a time?
Alternate histories and infinite realities are hardly unusual concepts for films to explore, and yet there’s something particularly tasteless about a movie that faithfully recreates the brutal details of a real-life multiple homicide SEVERAL TIMES… as dream sequences. Because that’s the thing — the movie has done its homework. It knows that Jay Sebring (Mean Girl’s Jonathan Bennett) protested the rough treatment of the 8-month pregnant Sharon, and that she herself begged to be allowed to live long enough to have her baby. It knows that Abigail Folger (Lydia Hearst) was stabbed on the lawn by the pool, and that Wojciech Frykowski (Pawel Szajda) was sleeping on the couch when the intruders entered, and that the killers wrote “PIG” on the door in blood. And we have to experience all that excruciating accuracy over and over and over again, as nothing more than a cheap gimmick. This “reality” is literally haunting Sharon Tate, prompting her to Final Girl her way out of her own death.
Yup, that’s right: Sharon Tate is a straight up Final Girl in this movie. When you strip away all the two-bit philosophizing and True Crime baiting, it’s nothing more than a horror movie. Albeit a surprisingly well-crafted one, which is what really adds insult to injury. Writer/director Daniel Farrands is a student of the genre, and it shows. He’s made horror films in the past, and he’s even made documentaries about some of the biggest slasher flicks ever made (including A Nightmare on Elm Street and Friday The 13th). And now he’s taking all the little tricks — the creaky doors, the foreshadowing, the maggot-riddled dead animals, the brilliant crimson splashes of fake blood, the dutch angle close-ups and the subtle shakiness of the handheld camera — and using them to transform a real tragedy into a fictional triumph. She may not be a virgin, but Sharon is missing her cheating husband (Roman Polanski) and feeling unattractive as she overhears her friends having sex at night. She knows something’s horribly wrong, but nobody believes her. And with a final guttural “F*CK YOU!” Sharon manages to shoot Tex Watson (Tyler Johnson) in the head, ending her nightmare for good.
If it sounds like I’m praising the movie, then please understand — it’s still not very good. The performances are unconvincing and awkward, though Duff, in particular, tries her damndest to soldier on through willpower alone (her accent is another matter entirely). And even the premise bottoms out in its final moments, as the seemingly victorious Tate realizes that the bodies the cops have carried out of her house aren’t those of the intruders but those of the original victims, proving that it all had been a pointless mental exercise because… what, SHE’S the ghost doing the haunting or something? Apparently, we can’t change our destiny, and our plucky heroine is still very much dead. So we don’t get the catharsis of a history rewritten, and we don’t get any sort of closure on the real tragedy that took place either. In the end, all the clever little horror tricks and philosophical quirks may make this tasteless exercise slightly more interesting, but they also give it a strong whiff of self-satisfied posturing. It’s a flashy yet hollow venture, and the strength of those few parts does not salvage the whole from being a Very Bad Idea.
But if you can ignore that bad taste it leaves in your mouth, it might at least qualify as an almost admirable disaster — a big swing that definitely didn’t need to be swung, but gosh darn it, a swing nonetheless. I mean if nothing else, it’s still WAY better than Speed Kills.
Header Image Source: Saban Films