Hilary Duff plays fated actress Sharon Tate in the last few days of her life. Tate begins to see visions of her own grisly fate. In its final act, the film reveals itself to be alternate history, implying that Tate’s visions have enabled her to change the events of that horrible night.
The murder of Sharon Tate and the four other occupants of 10050 Cielo Drive has become an infamous moment in American history. A shocking nightmare that is often cited as the end of the counter-cultural movement of the 1960s. There has been much discussion regarding the film projects that are being released this year, on the fiftieth anniversary of the event. It is not inherently wrong to approach the Tate Murders through the medium of film. To assert that it is, would be to take a reductionist view of film as solely a source of entertainment. Film is a method of communication and if we do not use this to explore the parts of our world and history that disturb us, we would not be using the medium to its full potential.
However, any film hoping to portray this infamous night must be confident in its purpose or risk being accused of sensationalism or needless provocation. Director Daniel Farrands asserts that this film is intended as a celebration of its victims. A film determined to do this might focus more on its characters. It might offer greater insight into the lives of the people who died that night and the consequences of their loss. Perhaps it would omit the night of the murder altogether. Instead, we are shown a stylized portrayal of the attacks about halfway through the film complete with CGI blood splatter and overwrought music. The film then offers what it considers justice for that night; the members of the Tate household violently dispatching their attackers. An eye for an eye.
If a viewer was unaware of the details of Sharon Tate’s life and death, they may entirely miss that this is a biographic film or even a period piece. There’s no sense of time to the production design or cinematic style. Instead, this plays as a rather conventional horror film. Tate experiences the typical beats of a haunted house film with late-night rumblings, false alarm jump scares (accompanied by loud musical stings, of course) and grisly visions of things to come. There’s nothing innovative or engaging about these horror tropes.
Duff manages a fairly competent horror performance, with a convincing look of terror. She is however lacking when it comes to taking back power from her attackers. She is also not able to invoke anything of Sharon Tate. There is a half-hearted attempt at an accent, but no sense of real character.
At its worst, there’s something very cynical about The Haunting of Sharon Tate. An insensitive attempt to add interest or impact to a very dull horror film, or perhaps just a misguided approach to telling a truly horrible story. Fifty years after the murder of Tate and her friends there are many more important discussions to be had about Manson and his crimes. Films like this detract, rather than contribute to such discussions, as well as buck the recent trend for intelligent, socially aware horror films.