Movie Review - House of Manson

Movie Review - House of Manson

Americans are fascinated with serial killers. It seems there isn't anyone who hasn't heard about the infamous Manson Family Murders and the group's charismatic but mentally unstable leader, Charles Manson. Writer-director Brandon Slage's House of Manson, presented as part biopic and part true crime thriller, is a pretty straightforward retelling of the story, and absolutely his strongest work to date. The film is told from the perspective of a fly on the wall, and therefore is neither a direct condemnation nor a glorification of the man who orchestrated the murders of no less than seven people, including a very pregnant Sharon Tate. Instead, the movie allows the viewer to be seduced by his charms before being thrown head first into the sheer brutality of his madness. House of Manson is an extremely powerful piece of film making that will stay with you long after the final frame of the movie. It hasn't been released yet, but you can keep up to date on that information by following House of Manson on Facebook.

Charles Manson is an American criminal and failed musician who led a commune, referred to as the Manson Family, living in the California desert in the late 1960s.  In the summer of 1969, after being rejected by music producer Terry Melcher, his delusions about an impending race war that he referred to as 'Helter Skelter' caused him to orchestrate the murders of seven people, including actress Sharon Tate, four other people at Tate's home, and a married couple - Leno and Rosemary LaBianca. The crimes were all carried out by members of the group at Manson's instruction. He was convicted of the murders through the joint-responsibility rule, which makes each member of a conspiracy guilty of crimes his fellow conspirators commit in furtherance of the conspiracy's objective. He was also found complicit in the deaths of Gary Hinman and Donald 'Shorty' Shea. The Manson family was subsequently captured at Spahn ranch and most were found guilty in the conspiracy and sentenced to die. But the state of California commuted the groups sentences from death to life in prison, where most of them remain today.

If there was ever an award given for casting in indie-films, it would have to go to Alexis Iacono (who also starred in Slagle's other 2014 film, Dead Sea). Because not only is every single actor in the cast immensely talented, but seemingly every one is a dead ringer for their real-life counterpart. It's truly remarkable. The members of the Manson Family are absolutely amazing - Devanny Pinn as Susan Atkins, Julie Rose as Leslie Van Houten, Mel Tuner as Squeaky, Amy Hessler as Mary Brunner, Serean Lorien as Patricia Krenwinkel, Reid Warner as Tex Watson, and Ryan Cleary as Bobby Beausoleil. Every one of them manages to convincingly make the transformation from impressionable young outcast looking for something to believe in, to merciless killers willing to carry out the wishes of a madman. Erin Marie Hogan is brilliant as Linda Kasabian. Able to convey her disillusionment, apprehension and fear through her wonderfully expressive eyes, she actually manages to draw feelings of sympathy, unlike the other members of the group. Tristan Risk's portrayal as Abigail Folger is devastating and effective. And Suzy Lorraine gives a heart-breaking and beautiful turn as Sharon Tate. But nothing can compare to the transcendent performance of Ryan Kiser as Charlie. Although it isn't the first time we've seen him play a delusional psychopath, here he takes on a deeper more maniacal persona that is utterly chilling to watch. It is a truly harrowing and sadistic portrayal.

Brandon Slagle is at the top of his game with House of Manson as both a writer and director. It isn't an easy task to turn a story that most people have already heard into an incredibly suspenseful film. But he manages to build the tension like a seasoned pro, gradually moving toward the fever pitch and breakneck pace of the final act. And the movie looks fantastic. The vibrant tone of the film provides a striking contrast for the dark and disturbing nature of the subject matter. This is a well constructed piece of film making from beginning to end. Slagle has an adept ability to create high quality films on a limited budget, and this is no exception. House of Manson is not to be missed, so keep your eyes out for a release date sometime in 2015. And in the meantime, check out the trailer below. Cheers. 

Grade: A-

- Leo Francis