Feminist Deconstruction Of The Manson Family

Hollywood continues to be fascinated by Charles Manson and his heinous murder cult, decades after the Manson Family brutally murdered a pregnant Sharon Tate right in Hollywood’s backyard. The wife of Roman Polanski and a promising actress on the verge of stardom, Tate’s shocking murder captured headlines across the country and almost instantly immortalized Manson in popular culture as a pure representation of evil. Now fifty years later, the Manson Family’s murders are seeing a surge in renewed interest with Tarantino’s Once Upon A Time In Hollywood and Mary Harron’s Charlie Says.

Manson’s three young female followers were sentenced to death in the notorious murder case, but their sentence soon after became life imprisonment when the death penalty was lifted. Charlie Says stars Matt Smith (Dr. Who) as Charles Manson, Suki Waterhouse, Merritt Wever, Hannah Murray (Game of Thrones), Sosie Bacon, and Marianne Rendon. It’s a strong cast that may not have been obvious choices at first blush, especially Matt Smith.

Filmmaker Mary Harron’s Charlie Says uniquely explores the Manson Family from the perspective of Manson’s devoted female followers, primarily Leslie “Lulu” Van Houten, Susan “Sadie” Atkins and Patricia “Katie” Atkins. Charlie Says doesn’t shy away from telling the story of Charles Manson and his particular brand of cult-like lunacy, but attempts to explain how these otherwise decent women became enthralled to the manipulative and delusional madman. One could say it paints a sympathetic portrait of them, all of whom freely participated in a series of brutal murders as instructed by Manson.

…winning filmmaking with superb storytelling

Confined to an isolated cellblock in a California penitentiary, the trio seem content at first living in jail. The young women wait for Manson himself to free them when his dire prophecies of a race war and revolution are supposed to begin. It’s only when graduate student Karlene Faith (Merritt Wever) is charged with their rehabilitation that someone finally sees them as more than vile murderers. Slowly learning what these women went through in flashbacks that depict their lives under Charles Manson, the patient Karlene Faith breaks down the deep emotional walls they’ve built up to shield themselves from their horrifying crimes.

Charlie Says is richly steeped in its 1960s period setting and that era’s music serves as important background. Pop music played a weirdly important role in Charles Manson’s tumultuous life, from his passing friendship with Dennis Wilson of the Beach Boys, to his odd beliefs about the Beatles’ song “Helter Skelter.” The production oozes an air of authenticity right down to the hippie clothes worn by Manson’s girls.

Harron has succinctly crafted a movie about Manson and what led up to his crimes with a superb cast and dynamic lead performances. It smoothly examines how Charles Manson could manipulate and brainwash vulnerable young women into giving up their old lives and join his “family.” The charismatic sociopath came along at the right time in history, taking advantage of wider societal trends spinning out of the hippie movement in California.

Some have complained about factual inconsistencies in Charlie Says that don’t jive with the historical record. Harron has constructed gripping drama about the women that murdered for Manson and how they ended up in jail. It should not be mistaken for a documentary re-telling of his crimes or life.

Confident direction and engaging characters give a different perspective on Charles Manson and his twisted followers. Charlie Says is winning filmmaking with superb storytelling. Delving into the fascinating psychological dynamics between Charles Manson and his female followers, this film might be a contender during award season.

Video

This 2.40:1 widescreen presentation has finely-honed cinematography with a realistic palette and healthy flesh-tones. Charlie Says wasn’t necessarily made for eye candy but the excellent production design excels in all technical phases, leading to above-average picture quality on Blu-ray.

The 1080P video has nice definition and real depth. The film-like transfer has ample detail and texture. About the only scenes less than stellar are the consciously moody moments that take place at night, when the Manson Family gathers together.

Shout Factory encodes the 110-minute main feature in AVC. Given high bitrates on a BD-50, it’s a transparent encode free of artifacts. The largely pristine elements have outstanding clarity in day-lit exteriors.

Audio

An active and discrete 5.1 DTS-HD MA soundtrack nicely balances action, music and dialogue. Songs from groups such as Love are perfectly placed into the mix, spread around the entire soundstage. The sound design adds to the audio, helping create an immersive experience with real impact. Bass is on the lighter side.

Optional English SDH and Spanish subtitles display in a white font, inside the scope frame at all times.

Extras

Shout Factory distributes this IFC Films release on Blu-ray with a slipcover. Reversible cover art is included. A smattering of trailers and making-of-featurette comprise the special features.

Making Of Charlie Says (06:16 in HD) – Considering the subject matter, this lightweight featurette doesn’t really deliver much beyond a few choice quotes from cast and crew about Charles Manson and this movie’s look at Manson’s female followers. Interview clips include everyone from director Mary Harron, writer Guinevere Turner, and most of the leading cast. Standard EPK material that should have been expanded.

Charlie Says Theatrical Trailer (02:18 in HD)

IFC Films Trailers (07:07 in HD) – Trailers for Red Joan, Donnybrook, and Blaze (2018) play before the main menu.

Full disclosure: This Blu-ray was provided to us for review. This has not affected the editorial process. For information on how we handle review material, please visit our about us page to learn more.

Charlies Says
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Charles Manson and his manipulative hold over his female followers are at the center of this hypnotically told account of the Manson Family and their crimes.

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