It’s a bold move to create a film about a real-life murder with a new concept based on a curious interview comment, but I guess that makes Daniel Farrands a bold man.
The Haunting of Sharon Tate – written and directed by Farrands – begins with a recreation of an interview between Sharon Tate and Fate magazine in which she recalls a dream she had (a premonition?) that sounds eerily similar to the circumstances of her own murder.
From there, the film follows the very pregnant Tate (as played by Hilary Duff of Lizzie McGuire fame) in the days leading up to the Manson Family murders. She senses that there’s something amiss – there are several bits of dialogue about fate, changing fate, and being trapped by fate – and things gradually get a little creepy around the house. Ghostly figures, odd sounds, hallucinations, the whole nine yards.
Unfortunately, the “haunting” elements feel – at times – tacked-on for the sake of the scare. The most effective scenes generate tension with some genuine horror-movie moments, but their conclusion just makes that build-up fall flat. As for the story itself, the script takes some extreme creative license with the progression of events.
The concept for the film is – as mentioned – a bold move, but it’s a creative way to approach a story we’re all familiar with. Is it in poor taste? Arguably, yes. There’s one particular scene about halfway through the film that feels more than a shade exploitative. But, regardless, The Haunting of Sharon Tate dives right in and refuses to look back.
From a technical standpoint, the film has an appropriately dreamy quality to it. Color filters amplify every radiant tone, and regular close-ups feel like that single-point focus that often happens in dreams. Bits of dialogue that were re-done in post-production sound isolated and unnatural — which is occasionally distracting — but it really adds to that dreamlike aura of the film. It’s easy to get lost in the unreality of it all.
The film really meditates on the aforementioned theme of fate and often questions Tate’s credibility as a reliable narrator. She’s haunted by vivid nightmares and becomes increasingly paranoid about the sincerity and support of those around her. Her friends — who believe that she’s just overstressed — wave off her outbursts and concerns. The very pregnant Tate is soothed, dismissed, and placated; it’s reminiscent of the gaslighting in Rosemary’s Baby, but the effect isn’t quite the same.
There’s an earnest effort from the actors — including Duff, who clearly cares about her character –- but their interactions come off as a bit stilted. Perhaps it’s the ADR, or perhaps it’s the dialogue, but their performances sometimes feel like they’re not all acting in the same movie.
Wisely, Farrands trusts in his audience’s knowledge of the case and uses it to smooth out (some) heavy-handed exposition. He’ll allude to facts of the case (for example, that Manson believed the home was still inhabited by a record producer, Terry Melcher, who he was trying to contact), but the fictional side takes a large, heavy-handed jump, forcing you to drop the details and just go on this journey with them.
The effect is a curious one. The Haunting of Sharon Tate unapologetically takes the audience on a wild ride that puts a spin on a horrific and well-known real-world event. It’s a film that takes bold liberties, injecting its own philosophical twist into the mix. What you have to decide — as an audience — is if this concept works for you.
You can see it in theaters and on demand as of April 5, 2019.