The gruesome scene at 10050 Cielo Drive of Benedict Canyon, overlooking Beverly Hills and Bel Air in Los Angeles, became one of the most ill-famed nights in American history and cinematic lore.
On that fateful night, five people lost their lives – including the child that Tate was just weeks away from delivering.
DISCLAIMER: This is an indie film, not a documentary, so liberties have been taken and the truth stretched further than a hipster’s onion ring earlobe to fulfill the director’s vision.
The Haunting of Sharon Tate starts off with a quote by Edgar Allen Poe questioning if we are in a living dream or merely dreaming within it, setting the tone for the rest of the film as it drops wistful breadcrumbs of the inevitable. You know what will happen, but how it happens is what you’re interested in and this is what director Daniel Farrands banks all those expectations on.
Cut to a black and white-tinted interview with Sharon Tate (played by a dreamy Hilary Duff), in which she shares a haunting vision of unsightly specters and a grisly death. The film doesn’t hold back on showing Tate question destiny whilst on the cusp of her burgeoning fame – at several points, she is seen reading books and asking her friends about the nature of fate.
The rest of the film plays it safe with the standard home invasion formula: people spend time lazing around the luxurious home; strangers intermittently appear to spook the group; dread sets in, suddenly there is violence, final sequence and then the credits roll.
Farrands chose wisely in employing Fantom to compose the music as it added to the overall uneasiness in creating an ever-present sense of looming foreboding. Even in the quiet, cheery moments of the film you get a feeling that something just isn’t right.
The setting of the film makes you self-aware of how isolated the characters are, even though they are in the hills of Hollywood, one of the most popular and ostentatious places on the planet. The irony is thick enough that you could stab it… multiple times, and come back for more.
Now that the niceties are out of the way, let’s make like vicious rhetoric and cut straight to all the maligned points.
This film is inviting but falls short with the follow-up, not because of the subject matter but because of how the characters fumble about and only appear around Duff so she can bounce her questions and showcase her acting ability. Credit must be given to Duff for attempting to make the leap from teen idol to mature actress, but her first horror film illustrates that far more blood, sweat, and tears are needed to change melodramatic into emphatic. Ryan Cargill commendably plays the young, awkward whiz-kid Steven Parent.
Speaking of performances, the other actors match Duff with either being over-the-top or not giving enough urgency to a particular moment. The lack of consistency breaks the flow – suspension of belief be damned – but the story continues regardless.
Suspension of belief is only effective when measured well against the story, what it intends achieving in getting you to believe, and in between looking through windows (which happens often) you get a foreboding sense that someone is out there, but the problem is this: we already know who! They’ve been shown multiple times throughout the film, even bumping into the hapless main character whilst on a leisurely stroll down a path near the home.
One aspect that distracts is that of the jump-scares: awkward in places and sometimes frankly unnecessary as the tension in those given scenes is already so high that it makes little sense to keep repeating them. The same can be said about the over-reliance on tropes such as the beloved dog that senses danger, runs off then is found dead the following day. As mentioned previously, the characters (Duff aside) barely react to the pet’s demise. The infamous “I am the Devil” line is repeated more than once, but it is delivered with the same flaccid tone, diluting its impact each time.
There is a set piece at the half-way mark that raises the pulse several beats but once it’s over, you sink back then realise there’s still a second half to toddle through. This is the end you expect, so what could you possibly miss? Well, Charles Manson’s eerie folk music and his lurking ‘family’ help the film lurch to its inevitable conclusion.
The final act can be seen as both frustrating and brave. If you are not familiar with the history behind the film, you have more to wonder about. It can be frustrating if you are well-read, and noticed that the underlying theme of fate is under-utilised (despite the tie-ins). Still a brave gamble with the twist, never the less.
Should you watch this? Yes, if you are fascinated by the Tate murders and enjoy home invasion films with a horror flavour. The scares might be cheap, but the film is worth seeing with friends.
The infamous household might be gone, but the painful memory will live on. That night will continue to inspire many more return visits. The Haunting of Sharon Tate just happens to be one of the bumpier, less-satisfying detours.
The Haunting of Sharon Tate releases on 5 April, through Saban Films.
Check out the trailer and decide for yourself:
In case you’re wondering, Manson had a brief career in music and his song “Ceased to Exist” plays at the end of the trailer (just for extra creep factor):
iTunes Preorder Link: