The summer of 1969 was one of the most iconic and influential periods in American history. Over the course of a few weeks, you had Woodstock, the Apollo 11 landing on the moon and the infamous Manson Family murders. Given that this year is the 50th anniversary of those events, you don't have to be Sharon Tate to have a premonition that we will most likely be inundated with films to celebrate their anniversary.
I don't mean to be glib about the tragic murder of one of Hollywood's brightest up and coming stars 50 years ago, but that's pretty much how The Haunting of Sharon Tate treats it. The Manson Family murders are one of those era-defining events that resonate with all of us all of these years later. Growing up, I was afraid of Charles Manson because of the stories that I heard and it seems like writer-director Daniel Farrands was in the same boat because he presents the events of that night under a horror movie filter.
The Haunting of Sharon Tate stars Hilary Duff as the ill-fated actress who is plagued by terrifying premonitions of her impending death. In the days leading up to the violent episodes, Tate feels abandoned by husband Roman Polanski as America's soon-to-be most notorious cult leader stalks her.
It is always tricky when you adapt a true story into a film. This trickiness becomes exponentially more difficult when the story is as well known as the Tate murders. There's a fine line between artistic license and losing all credibility. Unfortunately for The Haunting of Sharon Tate, the film indulges too much in its own creativity and ultimately loses the interest of even die-hard true crime fanatics.
It's pretty clear from the get-go that Farrands is more interested in telling a horror story than presenting the facts of the Tate murders. While he grounds the movie in reality with actual news footage at the start, it doesn't take long for him to veer off into crazy land.
The Haunting of Sharon Tate recounts the last 72 hours of Sharon Tate's life, but the director takes a great number of liberties with the facts along the way. The kernel of the story stems from the reports and interview in which Sharon Tate claimed to have a violent premonition about a year before her death. Farrands takes that idea and turns it up to eleven by having Duff's Tate relive that premonition over and over again in the days before the murders.
There's no evidence that Sharon Tate was plagued by these visions before the events and by highlighting them over and over, the film erodes the audience's confidence in the accuracy of the actual murders. After all the false starts, fake-outs and juvenile jump scares, the brutality of the actual violence is surprisingly accurate given historical accounts.
The sheer number of stab wounds on each victim is mind-boggling and Farrands is determined to show them all. On the one hand, it's bold to spend so much time on the violence as to numb the audience to its effects, while on the other hand, the buildup to the end was so crazy and itself ultra-violent that it's almost anticlimactic.
For those of you too young to remember much about the Manson Family and their sprees of violence, you might be misled about the accuracy of the events in The Haunting of Sharon Tate. In fact, by giving them the "horror film treatment," it almost cheapens them to a point that you're left wondering if Farrands is trying to honor the lives lost or to poke fun at Sharon Tate for not acting upon the alleged premonitions.
I also strongly disliked Hilary Duff in the lead role. That's nothing against her acting or the actress herself, she's just not right in the role. At the time, Sharon Tate was on the verge of joining the upper elite of Hollywood bombshell leading ladies. She was beautiful, smart and more akin to being compared to Audrey Hepburn than say, Miley Cyrus. I suppose that's a bit of a harsh comparison, but it will take a lot for us not to include Hilary Duff and Miley Cyrus in the same breath given their similar rise to fame and notoriety.
Hilary Duff is a talented actress, but breaking out of Hollywood's preconceived notions of you is difficult. I have faith that if she sticks with it that she can finally shed the Lizzie McGuire label. Unfortunately, The Haunting of Sharon Tate is not said vehicle and only demonstrates that the actress needs to be a bit more careful in choosing her roles.
With Quentin Tarantino's Once Upon a Time in... Hollywood set to cover similar ground next month, the outlook for The Haunting of Sharon Tate's future is not good. In Quentin's movie, Margot Robbie is set to bring the iconic actress back to life and I'm confident that she does have the acting chops to pull off Sharon Tate.
If you like to indulge in cheap horror antics and love extreme violence, then you might get more mileage out of The Haunting of Sharon Tate than I did. I just found it to be rather silly and a bit irreverential to the memory of those who tragically lost their lives 50 years ago.
The Haunting of Sharon Tate is now available on Blu-ray and DVD.