Charlie Says is the next stop in Hollywood’s 2019 tour de Manson, which appears to be a topic of great interest in 2019. The maligned The Haunting of Sharon Tate (though, it was favorably reviewed here at Film Threat) has already evaporated from the conversation. As we await Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, which will factor in Sharon Tate and the Manson murders, we now have Mary Harron’s Charlie Says,
“…cuts between the time leading up to the murders, which took place in August of 1969, and a period of time after when three of the girls…are serving a life sentence in prison…”
If anything, Charlie Says hammers home our culture’s obsession with true crime stories – something else that continues to rise in the entertainment sphere – but can’t offer much insight or anything interesting in terms of its story. While movies this year are incorporating the infamous Manson murders into their central stories, Charlie Says has put them front-and-center and missed a chance to explore the psychology of a cult and instead feels like a gauzy art installation without much focus.
The movie cuts between the time leading up to the murders, which took place in August of 1969, and a period of time after when three of the girls involved, Susan Atkins (Marianne Rendon), Leslie Van Houten (Hannah Murray) and Patricia Krenwinkel (Sosie Bacon) are serving a life sentence in prison for their involvement in the crimes. A grad student, Karlene (Merritt Wever), is assigned to the girls to teach them, understand what they went through in the cult and try to reconfigure their ways of thinking to a more modern time period. If only the movie seemed half as interested as well.
“…plays like a bit of a hangout movie as the community on The Ranch…”
In the scenes outside of the prison, Charlie Says plays like a bit of a hangout movie as the community on The Ranch continues to grow under the leadership of Charles Manson (Matt Smith). Smith is never really able to find the tempo of a charismatic sociopath and just wanders through the performance without much menace or intrigue. We know Manson was a one of the worst human beings but Smith’s performance – and the film’s screenplay – don’t give much of a reason to what made him appealing to his following.
Charlie Says registers as a disappointment coming from Harron, who is fascinated in exploring the mind of depraved characters and working with the real-life Manson case should have provided her a chance to do what she does best. Look no further than American Psycho to see what she can do with these kinds of characters.
Charlie Says (2019) Directed by Mary Harron. Written by Guinevere Turner. Starring Marianne Rendon, Hannah Murray, Sosie Bacon, Merritt Wever and Matt Smith.
4 out of 10