Fifty years after her slaying at the hands of the Manson Family, Sharon Tate is having a moment. Unfortunately, it’s not a dignified one, as evidenced by Daniel Farrands’ horror film filtering the 1969 brutal murders of Tate and the other victims through tired horror movie tropes. Starring a miscast Hilary Duff in the title role, The Haunting of Sharon Tate deserves the instant obscurity for which it is certainly destined.
The story begins with a pregnant Tate returning to Los Angeles while her husband Roman Polanski stays in London to work on his next film. The central conceit is based on a premonition Tate supposedly had about her murder, which writer/director Farrands (The Amityville Murders) spins off into a fictional series of nightmarish visions suffered by the actress in the days before her death.
This scenario provides the opportunity for familiar-feeling jump scares as a terrified Tate imagines being stalked by a man she knows only as “Charlie” and his followers, while her house guests attempt to convince her that she’s just being paranoid. It’s as if Tate is starring in her own version of Polanski’s Rosemary’s Baby, the script of which she picks up at one point. (The moment is but one of several subtle and not-so-subtle nods to the director.) The film heavily lays on it foreboding; when Sharon plays a fortune-telling game and asks, “Will I live a long, happy life,” the ball ominously lands on the answer “No.”
Far from being a realistic dramatization of the events, The Haunting of Sharon Tate presents an alternate reality version that culminates in a home invasion in which a plucky, resourceful Sharon leads the others in fighting back against the crazed attackers. To say that things get seriously loopy is an understatement, especially in the bizarre context (in at least one of the several versions of the events depicted, Tate get to kick some serious ass). The film actually doesn’t go anywhere that we haven’t seen a thousand times before, and usually done far batter. But the horror movie-style segments are at least preferable to the windily pretentious dialogue, including a series of ponderous philosophical conversations between Tate and her friend and confidante Jay Sebring (Jonathan Bennett), concerning the nature of reality, that stop the movie dead in its tracks.
Speaking in an approximation of Tate’s breathy voice, Duff works hard but is never fully convincing as the willowy actress. Director/screenwriter Farrands gives the film a washed-out, ’60s look that makes it look like it was made in the period in which it was set. He also includes archival news footage related to the tragic events, which only makes his cheapening of the tale all the more egregious.
Sharon Tate, and her fellow victims, deserved more in life. And they deserve more in death than this tawdry exercise in exploitation.
Production Companies: Skyline Entertainment, ETA Films, 1428 Films, Green Light Pictures
Distributor: Saban Films
Cast: Hilary Duff, Jonathan Bennett, Lydia Hearst, Pawel Szajda, Ryan Cargill, Tyler Johnson, Bella Popa, Fivel Stewart, Ben Mellish
Director-screenwriter: Daniel Farrands
Producers: Eric Brenner, Daniel Farrands, Lucas Jarach
Executive producers: Charles Arthur Berg, Jorge Garcia Castro, Jim Jacobsen, Jonathan Saba
Director of photography: Carlo Rinaldi
Production designer: Brenton Burna
Costume designer: Susan Doepner-Senac
Editor: Dan Riddle
Casting: Dean E. Fronk, Donald Paul Pemrick
Rated R, 94 minutes