Yes, The Haunting of Sharon Tate IS a real film, and starring none other than Lizzie McGuire star, Hilary Duff, in the titular role. In what is a revisionism of the tragic Manson murders of 50 years ago, this (slightly?) based-on-true-events story is certainly not for everyone. Writer and director Daniel Farrands, whose previous writing credits includes the underrated Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers, has – in the world of 2019 Sharon Tate related films – created the B-movie alternative to Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time in Hollywood.
Opening somewhat bizarrely with a black and white, almost confession-like monologue by Duff’s Tate, The Haunting of Sharon Tate is immediately established as a slightly non-linear, yet outside-of-the-box portrayal of the ultimate tragedy. Days earlier Tate and her hairstylist friend, Jay Sebring (Jonathan Bennett), arrive at Tate and Polanski’s rented home, greeted by their friends Abigail Folger (Lydia Hearst) and Wojciech Frykowski (Pawel Szajda). Missing her director husband filming away in Europe, Tate gradually feels the unease of, whilst eight months pregnant, living with the party-centric Abigail and Wojciech. In what appears to be a somewhat secluded area, tension develops as Tate crosses paths with the suspicious-looking Tex Watson (Tyler Johnson), Sadie (Bella Popa) and Yellow (Fivel Stewart). This tension culminates with the hilarious, yet creepy placement of a manipulated stereo set playing nasty-sounding, subliminative music. Then the nightmares begin… Frightened to death by her surroundings and not knowing who to trust, Tate must fight to survive her inevitable demise.
Under Farrands’ direction, The Haunting of Sharon Tate moves back and forth from cheap to scary, with the occasional twist and turn keeping viewers debating the legitimacy of what is occurring on screen, questioning whether it’s all in a character’s head, thus adding psychological elements to this horror. Sadly, however, taking into consideration that is a biopic of sorts, there is a failure to successfully establish an audience recognition that they are watching Sharon Tate and her friends in 1969. If the spoken word of character names and obvious giveaways were to be removed, it would be difficult to establish the cast as who they are portrayed to be. Only when the violence is in-depth, and glimpses of Manson are apparent, is there a strong-ish indication of who is involved.
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On a more positive note, Duff’s acting improves massively throughout The Haunting of Sharon Tate. From an awkward black and white opening to believable sheer terror, Duff’s acting is certainly one of the highlights of a very dark, sinister film. Duff’s acting is captured and presented so magnificently that her character’s terror is experienced also by the viewer. This could be the genesis of more horror/thriller roles for Duff, yet at the same time her performance as Sharon Tate could cement her place in the world of direct-to-video.
Outwardly, The Haunting of Sharon Tate has the look of a very low-budget, maybe even glorified student film. It is in this instance that the graphic murderous violence looks almost way too raw. Horror fans may find delight in this, but there is still an overwhelming element of this on-look not feeling right for consumption.
One has to question which audiences this film will attract. Horror fans aside, is it likely that fans of Lizzie McGuire will be attracted to this? Watching your idol grow from Lizzie McGuire to The Haunting of Sharon Tate can be paralleled to a beautiful baby turning to heroin in their later years. Yet ironically, Hilary Duff is really good as Sharon Tate as her performance progresses and the dangers emerge throughout this film.
Ultimately, The Haunting of Sharon Tate is an intriguing film for both good and bad reasons. Praise towards the different take on the tragedy, sadly, is not enough to save The Haunting of Sharon Tate from being a routinely bad film throughout. Furthermore, it does suffer from the biopic predictability factor, as expected. But in avoidance of predictability, Farrands does produce an outside-of-the-box concept to a disturbing story where everybody knows the tragic outcome. A legacy has the potential to be established, for the presentation of graphic violence throughout, though at the same time, it would be no great surprise to see The Haunting of Sharon Tate‘s legacy exist within the supermarket £3 direct-to-video section.