Blu-ray Review: Charlie Says

The summer of fear swept over Los Angeles in 1969 with two horrific murder scenes. First was the brutal slaying of five people at 10050 Cielo Drive that included Sharon Tate, the pregnant wife of Roman Polanski. Roman had just directed Rosemary’s Baby so rumors quickly swirled to the true identity of the killers. The next night the LaBianca family were also murdered in a grizzly fashion. For months the city was gripped in fear as to identity of the killers and their motives. When the police finally broke the case, people were shocked that the savage butchery involved a group of young women who had fallen under the spell of Charles Manson. Charlie Says approaches this horrific time after the trial and question how could a trio of nice girls be a part of Helter Skelter. Director Mary Harron and screenwriter Guinevere Turner approach the events through someone who wasn’t there in Charlie Says.

Karlene Faith (Nurse Jackie‘s Merritt Wever) works at a prison teaching classes to inmates. She’s given a special assignment by the warden. The state of California no longer had the death penalty and they need something to do with three members of the Manson Family that are in lock up. Leslie Van Houten (Game of Thrones‘ Hannah Murray), Susan Atkins (Mapplethorpe‘s Marianne Rendón), and Patricia Krenwinkel (13 Reasons Why‘s Sosie Bacon) are still in full Manson Family mindset behind bars. The trio of women swear that Charlie (Doctor Who‘s Matt Smith) will rescue them from their cells. Her sessions with the women don’t go well at first as she learns how isolated the women had become after they end up with the musician. Even though they live on the Spahn Ranch, a former location for shooting western movies, there’s a feeling that big things are going to happen. Dennis Wilson adapted on of Charlie’s songs for a Beach Boys record. However the fame of being the next big post-star for the man who was rejected to be in The Monkees is so close. The girls are willing to do anything to help Charlie become a success. He uses them for favors to his various connection. When he feels he’s been screwed over by the music industry, he trains the girls to be his revenge. He sends them to 10050 Cielo Drive to dispose of the record executive who derailed his dream. But that person has moved and the new tenant and their guests are slaughtered that night. Karlene does her best to let these three women know that they were lied to by Charlie. Can they accept the truth or have they embraced the cult too deeply to recognize their crimes?

Charlie Says does an amazing job to be more than another indie film that exploits the Manson Family as a way to sell a violent horror film. Harron and Turner had previously collaborated on American Psycho so they do know how to fill the screen with knife cuts and blood. Charlie Says is based on Karlene’s book about her time working with the three women as they were isolated on death row. It’s Karlene’s desire to know how a man can have so many women brainwashed so deeply that they don’t question why they had to kill for him. That’s not to say the film is just about a therapy class behind bars. There’s plenty of flashbacks to the Spahn Ranch and how the girls found their way to Charlie. We sense how he lured them into his life using lines that are constantly dropped during “Self Development Lectures” that people flock to online. He makes them let down their defenses to him and only him. Matt Smith does a fine job in a role that he’s too big for. Charles Manson was 5’2″ and Smith is reportedly six feet tall. But the former Doctor Who uses this to his advantage. He’s able to play small in scenes and encounters. He doesn’t tower over his music industry friends. But he does grow in the eyes of the girls when he’s taking control of them and making them accept the unacceptable. He embraces the role in such a way that after about three minutes you’ll forget he was once Doctor Who and only fear what he’ll do next.

At the end of July, Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon A Time In Hollywood will wrap the nightmare of the murders at 10050 Cielo Drive into a fictional tale about their next door neighbors. Charlie Says sticks to the real people who caused the mayhem. The film questions how such sweet girls can be transformed into killing strangers for the love of a man.

The video is 2.35:1 anamorphic. The transfer brings out dirtiness of the semi-abandoned Spahn Ranch and coldness of deathrow cellblock. The audio is 5.1 DTS-HD MA Surround and a 2.0 DTS-HD MA stereo. The subtitles are in English and Spanish.

Cast and Crew Interviews (6:16) brings up how Hannah Murray never used her real voice during the production.

Trailer (2:18) shows that this will be more than just the gruesome events.

Shout! Factory presents Charlie Says. Directed by Mary Harron. Screenplay by: Guinevere Turner. Starring: Matt Smith, Merritt Wever, Hannah Murray, Marianne Rendon & Sosie Bacon. Rated: R. Running Time: 110 minutes. Released: August 6, 2019

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