Did you know there were two films that came out in 2019 about the terrible murder of Sharon Tate? And like me you probably only knew about one in the form of Tarantino’s Once Upon A Time… In Hollywood. A magnificent film in its own right. But before Tarantino’s 9th wonder of cinema, we had this film that should be a reminder to us all, that even though horror is the darkest genre, where the evilest of evils can be explored, you still have to have good taste.
Directed by Daniel Farrands, this film is based on the real-life murder of Sharon Tate in 1969, but with a twist. Sharon Tate, played by Hilary Duff, is pregnant with her husband and director Roman Polanski’s baby. Roman is away and Sharon is left with her friends Jay (Jonathan Bennett), Gibby (Lydia Hearst) and Wojciech (Pawel Szajda). Things start to turn strange when Sharon starts to have visions and nightmares about her murder at the hands of members of Charles Manson’s cult.
So the key to the film here is the “visions and nightmares” part of the story. The Haunting of Sharon Tate tries to implement a supernatural element to the murder of Sharon Tate, that’s why Sharon in the film has a lot of nightmares and why the members of Charles Manson’s cult portrayed almost like phantoms. It unfathomable just how fatally flawed and disgusting this element is to the film because it changes very little about the actual events, it doesn’t add anything substantial. What it is there to do is to exploit a tragedy and it leaves you with a feeling of distastefulness.
The visions and nightmares that Sharon Tate has are immensely repetitious. It feels like every time she has a nightmare, the goal with them was to see how else the film could kill Sharon and her friends in the most disturbing ways possible. After a while, they become very stretched out and it’s clear that the film is banking on the shockingness of these nightmares for the actual horror of the film. You can tell early on that the filmmakers had nothing else to scare its audience with. You can easily break this film down into “people talking…nightmare…people talking…nightmare”, and repeat.
So when you have something so tasteless, people often turn off the moment it gets too much. You can actually see this in the performances people give. I wouldn’t put the blame on them entirely because script wise, they really didn’t have much to work with. Hilary Duff is pretty bland as Sharon Tate, but that may be because the character is either having an aforementioned nightmare or is crying. You know when you show a horror film to a horror newbie and the one of the most common things they say is “Why don’t they call the police?”. You should be prepared to hear that sentence by the bucketload in this film.
The script, especially the dialogue, is a bunch of drivelling nonsense. Worst of all the film at points think it’s being really clever and really deep. When the story isn’t being dragged along, the film like to drop a few, what it believes, deep conversations about fate and having it out of our control. It comes at moment where we’re not at all suspecting it and it just shows that the dialogue has no flow. I hate deviating dialogue because it opens up too many paths for the audience to follow, but the audience doesn’t even have a map yet as to where the film is going, and before long, we’ve become completely lost and neglectful of the film where to only real option now is to turn it off or walk out.
Interestingly the director Daniel Farrands comes from a documentary background, having done many documentaries on the legacy of horror films like Scream: The Inside Story and Never Sleep Again: The Elm Street Legacy, which I believe are a must watch if you love the work of Wes Craven like me, or just like horror in general. However, what became noticeably clear is that he is still clinging on to that style of filmmaking in The Haunting of Sharon Tate. There are imagined interviews with Hilary Duff as Sharon Tate, but they also use the real interview footage of The Manson Cult members who killed her. I was thinking whilst watching that it’s very strange to use both real and imagined footage this way, you’ve got to choose one or the other. I’m not entirely sure if this interview with Hilary Duff as Sharon Tate was reimagined or imaginary but, to me, it felt like this was a last-minute decision, as though the filmmakers realised their whole idea of fate wasn’t punchy enough, so they filmed this sequence for good measure. It does seem to have that rushed feeling.
It seems Daniel Farrands didn’t learn his lesson with this film initially, as in the same year he also released The Murder of Nicole Brown Simpson which I can only assume is just as distasteful. The Haunting of Sharon Tate is an repulsively disgusting film and morally wrong. The story of Sharon Tate’s murder has been covered a lot, but I believe this film is the one that cares so little for the person who’s story they are telling. The filmmakers should feel at least some small increment of shame for how immoral this film is. If not, then I can even give this film an ounce of respect.