The Haunting of Sharon Tate (2019)

My whole life has been decided by fate. I think something more powerful than we are decides our fates for us. I know one thing — I’ve never planned anything that ever happened to me“- the actual Sharon Tate.

Hillary Duff stars in The Haunting of Sharon Tate where she plays the title character Sharon Tate, the most famous victim of the Manson Family’s two massacres. The movie focuses on actress Sharon Tate and her friends as she is being plagued by visions of her imminent death, which is supposedly based off an actual premonition she had. The movie has been attacked by Sharon’s surviving sister Debra as exploitative and critically lambasted.

The movie doesn’t really deserve all the flack it’s been getting. It’s a perfectly fine and serviceable movie that I’d recommend seeing if you’re curious. Spoilers below the cut.

Haunting is essentially the last few days of Sharon Tate and co.’s life if it were a modern horror movie. It’s shot like a bland modern horror movie and it has the music cues of one. It comes with the stock jump scares, several fake-out dream sequences, and CGI blood. Manson’s biggest presence in the movie are recordings he leaves for the house’s previous owner which play by themselves in the middle-of-the-night and the occasional “figure in a mirror who’s not there when you turn around”.

The movie tries mixing this with being a drama. Sharon has just returned from shooting a movie in London and is somewhat peeved at her friends, Abigail and her husband, who are keeping her company for down-playing her concerns about these premonitions, which she is growing more and more paranoid about, and how they have been making decisions for her. A lot of the exposition about their backstories is delivered in stock movie setups. The acting in this movie is serviceable across the board. Duff is a reasonable likeness to Tate but never manages to shed her familiarity and convince me of her character.

Along with the premonitions, the movie suffers from a chronic case of what seems to be ham-fisted foreshadowing. Sharon talks on two occasions about fate and destiny and whether they’re set in stone or capable of change; the first time is forced and a bit overwrought and the next is equally abrupt. The group also plays a fortune-telling game that was just sitting in the attic. Sharon asks if she’s going to have a girl and if she’s going to live a long and happy life and receives a NO in response to both.

The movie’s climax mostly justifies the watch. Sharon’s premonitions and mounting paranoia leads to an altered course of events that fateful night that places them in slightly different positions that leads to them being able to strike back and end up killing the Family members sent to kill them, surviving the movie and re-writing history.

This kind of negates any conversation about the accuracy of its depiction of these few days or whether or not Sharon Tate actually had premonitions. Picture, if you will, these premonitions as the universe deciding to warn this incarnation of Sharon Tate and this leads to different conversations and different choices being made. I applaud their attempt at doing something different; The movie kind of depends on this twist to be anything other than exploitative.

The altered ending ties into the director’s decision to focus on these five people instead of the more famous people associated with it. None of the Family members are named and you do not get any time devoted to them outside of encounters with our quintet. This led to the decision to not present the voices on the other end during two phone calls or indeed any people outside of the five who died that night and four Manson family members; It’s a bit off-putting to have Sharon holding a panicked conversation with her husband about her feeling the need to flee and you are not hearing Roman’s voice.

With all this supposed focus on the characters, not much comes out of it. You don’t really learn anything about the characters that aren’t Sharon Tate; I’m not sure if any of them even get a scene without Sharon there. There’s a scene that attempts to show how the groundskeeper likes taking technology apart to see how it works and is a runaway of sorts; It also laughably demonstrates him going full-on conspiracy mode about “The Man” putting subliminal messages into everything to render society passive.

In conclusion, this is not some masterpiece wrongly maligned by critics nor is it some atrocious defiling of Sharon and company’s graves. It’s simply a decent movie that gets by mostly on how it ends. Although I do not need to, I could see myself watching it again without much trouble.

P.S. I wonder what Debra would think of this movie if she actually sat down and watched it. She clearly has not seen it yet as her response accused the movie of “celebrat[ing] the killers and the darkest portion of society as being sexy or acceptable.” Really? A movie that focuses on the victims and allows them to become survivors and does not name any of the killers, humanzies them in any way, and kills them off is celebratory?

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