Film Review: Charlie Says

Mary Harron’s drama Charlie Says is a meditation on some of the members of the Manson Family. The film is quietly captivating. 

Years after the notorious Manson murders, three women who killed for him are incarcerated in an isolated cell block. When a graduate student attempts to provide education to them, she sees that they are still under Manson’s spell…

Focusing on three members of the Manson Family, Charlie Says looks at the motivations of these women as they look back on the past. The film arrives among a spate of Manson-related films (The Haunting of Sharon Tate was recently released, and Tarantino’s Once Upon A Time In Hollywood is due for release later this Summer). Unlike the former, and indeed some other previous films on the subject, director Mary Harron’s film does not feel at all exploitative. The gruesome depictions are not the focal point; instead Harron ponders the horror of the young women’s decisions. 

The narrative unfolds in an interesting manner. The decision to situate the audience with Karlene is a shrewd one. Audience will be able to relate to her knowledge of the crimes and her fascination with the motivations of the women. The story is told in a fragmented fashion, with lengthy past sequences interspersed with the present-day prison scenes. The contrast between these scenes is stark, as Harron intended. 

Viewers will know the outcome of Leslie’s immersion into the cult, yet Harron keeps viewers engaged. Viewers can share the frustration of Karlene as she tries to get through to her students. The meditative approach works well. Viewers will know what is coming, but Harron treats the climax and the culmination of Leslie’s brainwashing and action rather than focusing on the detail of the murders. It is a better film for this. 

Charlie Says is shot well; the warm tones are a good contrast to prison scenes. The film captures the era in an evocative manner. Hannah Murray gives a solid performance. Matt Smith is suitably convincing as Charlie, elsewhere Merritt Wever and Marianne Rendón are also good. 

Charlie Says does not seek to excuse actions of the women. Instead, the film seeks to understand the journey which led them to that point. The final sequence is most poignant; a fitting end to a thoughtful film. 

Charlie Says is available on Digital HD from 22nd July, and DVD from 29th July 2019.

What to Watch on Shudder: American Psycho and More

This week’s picks of what to watch on Shudder features American Psycho, Sun Choke, and short The Room at the Top of the Stairs…

What to Watch on Shudder: American Psycho

Mary Harron’s adaptation of Bret Easton Ellis’ novel American Psycho is on of the best films of the 21st century. Purists may claim that the film misses key scenes from the novel. However, the film is pretty much a masterclass on how to adapt an unwieldy book for the big screen. Christian Bale is perfectly cast as the investment banker who hides his psychopathic tendencies behind a polished facade. A smart and entertaining satire on shallow, capitalist culture, the film does not shy away from brutal depictions of violence. Patrick Bateman is an iconic character, and proof that horror serial killers come in all packages. American Psycho will make you laugh, make you wince, and entertain throughout.

What to Watch on Shudder: Sun Choke

Writer-director Ben Cresciman’s 2015 film Sun Choke is a strange and intriguing mystery thriller. The film is about a recovering young woman who is made to carry out daily wellness rituals by her caretaker. The film exudes mystery; it is unclear initially what the source of horror is. As the film progresses, this aspect is truly interesting to watch. Sun Choke features a great performance by Sarah Hagan (Buffy the Vampire Slayer fans may recognise the actress from the final season of the show). She is ably assisted by horror stalwart Barbara Crampton (Re-Animator, From Beyond, You’re Next). Sun Choke is a well-paced and nervy watch.

What to Watch on Shudder: The Room at the Top of the Stairs

Briony Kidd’s 2010 short The Room at the Top of the Stairs has a haunting, gothic quality. The film is about a young artist who feels overshadowed by a girl she has never met. Rather than overt scares, writer-director Kidd deals covert fears and realisations. The Room at the Top of the Stairs is a promising short from the Tasmanian filmmaker.

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