The B-roll of Los Angeles at night is quite good and the title cards are accurate. These are the only positives I can find in the absolute abomination that is passing itself off as a film, The Haunting of Sharon Tate. Everything about the man behind the camera and story and script, Daniel Farrands’ – I refuse to call him a filmmaker, director or writer on the strength of this – project, is bad.
Starring Hilary Duff – really embracing her surname in this performance – as the tragic Sharon Tate, Johnathan Bennett as Jay Sebring, Lydia Hearst as Abigail Folger and Pawel Szajda as Wojciech Frykowski, all friends of Tate and victims on that fateful night in 1969. Another victim, Steven Parent, is played by Ryan Cargill.
In possibly one of the most tasteless imaginings in cinematic history, Farrands’ fashions a story in which Tate is haunted by visions of her and that of her friends’ gruesome deaths. Farrands researched the Tate incident thoroughly before making the film, so knew the story well. He even went as far as to interview people who had actually known Sharon Tate. There is also a strange interview given by a not yet quite famous, or infamous, Tate, where she speaks of seeing a body tied to the staircase, with its throat cut.
By all accounts, Tate had been a sweet and lovely soul, loved by all who knew her. Farrands seemed to have ignored that and just told Duff to act overly hormonal and paranoid for the entire film. The acting in the film is really, really bad. It is so bad that I am forced to use alliteration, as opposed to a more flamboyant adjective, to emphasise just how awful the performances are. They are really, really, really bad.
As if the god-awful performances are not enough to contend with, the music is a relentless assault on the ears. By midway through the film, I had a headache that would not abate. The constant high tension strains and choppy camera work just addled my brain and added to my discomfort. Perhaps that was the filmmaker’s intention, but I doubt it.
For the first hour of the film, after recounting the original murderous events of that night in 1969, we are subjected to an endless stream of Tate’s nightmarish premonitions, all of them extremely violent and bloody. The Manson clan, and Manson himself, played by Ben Mellish, are portrayed as stalking, psychopaths, their simmering bloodlust waiting for an outlet.
Farrands decides to explore what might have happened if Tate had had a premonition. Not a nightmare that was somewhat foreboding, but an actual, beat for beat, premonition of the events of that final night in 1969. He decides that, perhaps, they may have fought back. Perhaps they would have been the ones doing the killing, turning the tables on Manson’s rabid following.
It is, in some perverse fashion, a bold homage to the lives of the five victims of that night fifty years ago. The rewriting of history, the good guys winning, this what any right-minded person wants to see in life. The Haunting of Sharon Tate tries to give them, albeit fictitiously, that win. Unfortunately, the film is terrible.
The script is just woeful, the speech stagey and unnatural. The four central characters are supposed to be close friends, in fact, Tate and Sebring had been an item before she got together with Roman Polanski. You would not be able to tell it from the performances. You know that they had been a couple because of the subtle, as a punch in the face, exposition that is used as Sebring drives Tate up to stay in the house in which they would all eventually die.
At just over ninety minutes, The Haunting of Sharon Tate is quite a painful watch. With the slightly strange decision to mix in some real-life footage with the reimagined story, the film is, at points, an uncomfortable watch but not in an artistic or profound way. It is just too bad a film for that.
The murder of Tate and her friends half a century ago continues to fascinate and shock because there was never any explanation, reasonable or farfetched, that could make the incident understandable.
The Haunting of Sharon Tate is the first of three films based on or inspired by those murders. One can only hope that the next two efforts are more palatable and better executed than this one. Avoid.