Forty years ago, Manson “family” members were kids. Vulnerable, alienated, running away from a world wracked by war and rebellion. They turned to a cult leader for love and wound up tied to a web of unimaginable evil, and now, on the brink of old age, they are the haunted.
By E.M. Fredric
HOLLYWOOD, CA – (The Hollywood Times) 05/01/19 – IFC Films presents Mary Harron’s Charlie Says in the year that August marks the 50th Anniversary of the multiple Manson Murders. Leslie Van Houten – one of the three women sent to prison for life – is up for parole – again – “deemed suitable, after serving more than four decades in prison.” The other three who killed for him, Leslie Van Houten (Hannah Murray), Patricia Krenwinkel (Sosie Bacon) and Susan Atkins (Marianne Rendon) are at the core of Charlie Says – taking place in an isolated cell block in a California prison. Scenes go back and forth in time to introduce the young women who fell under Manson’s spell. As the trio appear to be destined to live out their lives under the delusion that their crimes were part of a cosmic plan when an empathetic graduate student Karlene Faith (Merritt Weyer) is hired to rehabilitate them. As Karlene begins to push the boundaries of the psychological barriers the three women have lived under – we’re introduced to three naïve young women who weren’t the monsters the world press portrayed them to be… or are they? Some say Scientology was behind some of Manson’s cult teachings.
For those who weren’t alive during this time in history, the film leans in with a somewhat fresher take that the women were brain and drug-washed by Mansen to commit heinous murders under his direction. What it lacks in the portrayal of the women is both in the dimension of their characters and their backgrounds. Van Houton in particular – lacks any visible changes of note in her persona. Even when she awakes to the fact that she stabbed a dead woman 12 times post-mortem – Murray’s portrayal isn’t layered enough to make us feel the depth of her sentence becoming an irreversible personal torture. The film does have us peering through the eyes of extremely impressionable young women without the courage to say “no”. It seems unbelievable.
Yet, there was the Reverend Jim Jones who had over 900 people commit suicide by drinking cyanide-laced fruit punch – referred to as drinking the kool-aid.
Matt Smith – as Manson – is a convincing drugged-out and charismatic con man who fancied himself a rock star who used communal living in a vice-like grip while keeping his “family” deluded and confined to their life on the ranch. His stranglehold became lethal after Manson was rebuffed by the music industry and America’s psyche was forever altered by the slayings.
The victimhood stance is not doubtful but merely scratched upon in this otherwise decent slice of Manson history. Without a more coherent or detalied past on the girls – or his other followers – it makes it more difficult to believe in the complete victim theory in this instance. Yet, we’ve been shown historically it took little with the abduction of Patty Hearst to alter her born and bred reasoning under more severe circumstances.
The reliving of the murders isn’t easy to watch but the need for more commitment from the director/writer so the actors could show us a deeper characterization of these women would have been more satisfying. As it stands, we’re left with three clueless women – with brains so malleable – that Manson simply rolls out his plans like using silly putty. Charlie had a maniacal yet bewitching hold over others – that is known and more to be seen is needed to feel what it could’ve been like.
A very decent stab into difficult subject matter that leaves us wondering why too frequently or could that have been me? Or someone I know? It’s an eerie revisit to the decade of decadence.
Directed by Mary Harron. Written by Guinevere Turner. Produced by Cindi Rice, John Frank Rosenblum, Dana Guerin. Starring Matt Smith, Hannah Murray, Sosie Bacon, Marianne Rendon, Chance Crawford, Suki Waterhouse, Kayli Carter, Annabeth Gish and Merritt Wever
Charlie Says opens in Los Angeles and New York on May 10th.
Opening Theaters: Just added:
Arena Cinelounge Sunset – 6464 Sunset Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90028
Laemmle’s Noho 7 – 5240 Lankershim Blvd, North Hollywood, CA 91601
Laemmle’s Pasadena Playhouse 7 – 673 E Colorado Blvd, Pasadena, CA 91101
Laemmle’s Glendale – 207 N Maryland Ave, Glendale, CA 91206
Laemmle’s Monica Film Center – 1332 2nd St, Santa Monica, CA 90401
The Frida Cinema – 305 E 4th St #100, Santa Ana, CA 92701