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John’s Horror Corner: The Haunting of Sharon Tate (2019), True Crime meets Zodiac (2007) in this fictionalized story of the actress’ very real death.

April 2, 2019

MY CALL: For this pseudo-haunting-turned-home invasion, I offer a soft recommendation for fans of True Crime or Hilary Duff. But truly there is nothing original here; nothing we haven’t seen before. Still it was nice seeing Duff tackle a serious role and the film was proficiently made with some brutal imagery. MORE MOVIES LIKE The Haunting of Sharon Tate: Hard to say… probably Zodiac (2007) or The Strangers (2008).

Disclaimer: Screener access was provided by a publicist. However, I was not paid or compensated to write this nor were there any conditions to my receiving viewing access other than the timing of my solicited review.

After visions of her own grisly death by the hand of Charles Manson’s cult, actress Sharon Tate (Hilary Duff; Younger, Material Girls, A Cinderella Story, Cheaper by the Dozen) believed she had experienced a psychic phenomenon. Then in 1969 she was murdered. This is the story of her last days…

Welcomed by her close friends and far from her husband (Roman Polanski) who is finishing a film in Europe, a very pregnant Sharon Tate moves into a country-style house looking forward to the birth of her child. But Sharon finds little peace as she is haunted by daily unwelcome visitors, an apparently possessed tape player, and nightmares of her own peril.

Written and directed by horror documentarian Daniel Farrands (The Amityville Murders, Crystal Lake Memories, Never Sleep Again), this fictionalization based on Tate’s 1968 account (i.e., her psychic premonition) breeds a “True Crime meets Zodiac (2007)” atmosphere. Whether by virtue of knowing that Sharon Tate will actually be murdered or the emotional uneasiness of her suspicions that her husband is having an affair, this film never allows the audience to relax. We’re ever on edge because something is always off, and that may be the film’s best quality.

Seeing Hilary Duff casting away her wholesome family-friendly and youth-targeted roles remanded me a skeptical viewer. From scene to scene her performance quality felt passable yet quite inconsistent; at times working noticeably too hard on nailing every syllable of Tate’s accent and high society cant, others she felt convincingly desperate and terrified. Put simply, she performed better when summoning vital or emotional stakes to her character.

As we wade deeper into the one-dimensional plot, visceral scenes of bloody murder and gleeful murderers provide visions of The Strangers (2008) through a more realistic and less horror-sensationalized filter. And animal lovers ought to beware imagery of brutalized pets with waves of oscillating maggots erupting from their wounds. But what really caught me off guard (or perhaps impressed me) was what I’d describe as “practical violence”—not some theatrically glammed up violent flair, but the simple desperate pragmatism in freezing scared and then scrambling for a porcelain toilet cover and breaking it over someone’s face or the awkwardly clumsy unproficiency of wielding a shovel as a weapon.

What starts as a doubtful “haunting” finds its way to the kind of home invasion we’ve seen all seen before. Yes, we’ve seen it. It’s not a special film, but it’s a decent movie. And whereas I mentioned Duff’s performance was “passable,” this very performance leaves me optimistic of her potential in future dramatic roles. Likewise, Daniel Farrands is finding his feet as a horror filmmaker (including The Amityville Murders) after his significant success as a horror documentarian. Everyone shows great promise… I just promise you won’t be overly impressed with The Haunting of Sharon Tate. Consider it popcorn fare for Hilary Duff fans.

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