DCIFF '15: "House of Manson" Review

Writer/director Brandon Slagle’s “House of Manson” chronicles the life of Charles Manson (Ryan Kiser) leading up to the infamous Tate and LaBianca murders.The film doesn’t attempt to glorify or villianize Manson. Instead, it’s a by the books account of one of America’s most talked about killers.

The film moves swiftly through Manson’s early life. It focuses more on his time as a wandering musician, eventually leading up to starting the Manson Family. There is a lot of emphasis on the use of sex and drugs as a way to seduce, particularly the women in the family. Overall, the charismatic “star power” of Manson (the ability to influence others to kill at the time) is lost in the film, and his influence seems to stem more from the drugs, but perhaps that’s the point. 

The cinematography throughout the film is incredible. It captures the look and feel of the late 60’s shooting many scenes at golden hour to create a dream like look that’s close to the drug induced haze its characters are in. It also uses chiaroscuro (Italian word for strong contrast between light and dark) to its advantage. Once the violence gets going in the movie, the black is crushed and there is a steep drop off from light to dark in all of the scenes. The skillful implementation of this technique casts ominous shadows on the actors in all the right places, supplementing the horrific actions they carry out. 

The biggest issue with “House of Manson” is that its actors play crazy, and do more acting when they aren’t speaking. The cast of characters have an uncanny likeness to their real live counterparts. However, most of the lines are delivered based on what should be said next rather than a reaction and response to what was said. There are glimpses of three dimensional human beings in Davanny Pinn as Susan Atkins, Reid Warner as Tex Watson, and Kiser’s performance, but most moments feel like caricaturizations

Slagle’s unbiased approach is helpful in swallowing the extreme violence the last thirty minutes of the film delves into. Thankfully, he uses more of a Hitchcockian technique by showing less, and using audio to clue us into what’s happening. Overall the film is a bit sterile for the subject matter. “House of Manson” has its East Coast premiere tonight at 9:20pm at the DC Independent Film Festival.

Rating: C

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