American Psycho may have been a critique of misogyny and capitalism, but casting the incredibly sexy Christian Bale as Patrick Bateman, a yuppie serial killer, certainly muddled some viewers’ feelings of horniness and horror. The director and screenwriter of the 2000 cult classic, Mary Harron and Guinevere Turner, have turned their sights on another bloodthirsty maniac, Charles Manson, and his cohorts in Charlie Says. Let’s just hope they didn’t give Manson—a man with a swastika tattooed on his forehead—the Bale treatment. If ever there were an incorrect social climate to release another movie about young girls being abused and mind-controlled by a madman with sensual undertones and sexual overtones, this is it.
The film premiered at the 2018 Venice Film Festival in September. The focus of the film is on the Manson family, or the women of his cult that he brainwashed into following his apocalyptic teachings and killing five innocent people in the Tate murders.
They took place in 1969 at a rented home in California that was occupied by, among four others, actress Sharon Tate, who was eight months pregnant with the child of director Roman Polanski at the time of her death. Three women who were part of Manson’s cult and the man himself performed the murders.
The film takes places years after the murders were committed and frames the story around the three women, Leslie Van Houten (Hannah Murray), Patricia Krenwinkel (Sosie Bacon), and Susan Atkins (Marianne Rendón). The film also features Suki Waterhouse as a nonmurdering Manson girl. The incarcerated three meet with a graduate student Karlene Faith (Merritt Wever) who wants to rehabilitate them and teach them about feminism. Manson, who convinced them this was a part of a larger “cosmic plan,” according to the movie language, appears in flashbacks and is played by Matt Smith.
The movie got some pretty mediocre reviews after the Venice Film Festival, but one that is concerning is the headline from The Guardian: “Matt Smith is magnetic Charles Manson in unpersuasive cult drama.” How gross. Can we please avoid making Manson a dreamboat when he’s actually an embodiment of pure evil? The review goes on to praise the lead actresses’ skills, but also mentions that by trying to show that the three murderesses were brainwashed, the movie “reducing the women’s full adult responsibility infantilizes them and actually makes them less interesting.”
Indiewire is way more critical but finds that Smith is “miscast…failing to summon the cult leader’s manic energy or make us understand just how it was that he had so many under his thrall.” Which is actually reassuring in this case.
From here on out, can we agree that trying to show the heartthrob behind the serial killer is a bad idea?