Review: The Haunting of Sharon Tate (2019)

Film Columnist | Erin Leonard

Daniel Farrands adds another film to his portfolio with the release of a based-on-a-true-story piece about The Manson Family and the most well-known of their victims. The movie reorients itself in the mind of Sharon Tate in the weeks leading up to her death and creates a character out of her that draws the audience’s attention away from a somewhat bland set-up.

Hilary Duff used the film as an opportunity to break away from her somewhat typecast image as a fully-grown Disney Princess. Her portrayal of Sharon Tate is almost cartoonish in parts, setting the audience up with an angle of pity on the hysterical pregnant woman who can’t be taken seriously. There’s an unintentional genius in the way that she characterises Sharon Tate as a desperate damsel in distress where the actress-cum-murder-victim made her name playing such roles.  

The plot follows Sharon Tate through the long process of waiting for her husband (infamous filmmaker, Roman Polanski) to return from shooting a film in Europe. The subtext of her as a pregnant woman with a husband thousands of miles away engages the sympathy the audience has for her as she is doubted by the people entrusted with, not only keeping her safe, but also keeping her happy. This rather monotonous and domestic storyline contrasts with the horror of the dream sequences that are cut into the plot in a jarring way.

There is no genuine sense of terror imprinted upon the audience throughout the film, though the director achieves a sense of anxiety in the way that he keeps us on our toes with pacing. There is a sense with this movie that the same rules of horror do not apply; as an audience, it is not watched to be scared but rather to observe the fear associated with real-life events. The movie does not scare, it incites dread; the inevitability of it is depressing and this is only added to by the fact that countless, unneeded jump-scares are interspersed with what really happened.  

The Haunting of Sharon Tate bridges a gap in the horror world: the gore-fest and the psychological thriller that can meet only on the plane of retellings of reality. Whether this was a good idea is up for debate, though critics throughout the community have reached some consensus: the writing takes advantage of a real-life tragedy and attempts to turn it into something that it wasn’t in order to appeal to a target audience. Either way, however, the film is at as a loss: in context, it’s offensive, but out of context, it’s a mediocre film. Farrands surely had no poor intentions, but the film strikes the wrong chord with its watchers.

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The Haunting of Sharon Tate will be available to watch on digital download from April 8th.

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