‘Charlie Says’ Shows the Horror of Charles Manson Without Glorifying Him

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The Manson Murders are possibly some of the most gruesome and well-known episodes in the true crime world. While Charles Manson never lifted the knife, he did create a band of murderers out of his followers. The new film Charlie Says shows the breakdown from cult to murder through the eyes of three followers as they serve out their sentences in jail. A prison teacher sets out to break the power Charlie has over the young women, while also trying to get them to accept the severity of their actions.

Matt Smith (The Crown) takes on the role of Charles Manson so perfectly that it ends up being eerie. He has mastered the dead-eyed stare, the angry outbursts, and other behaviors reported from those who followed him. Hannah Murray (Game of Thrones and Skins) excels as Leslie Van Houten, going from her first days on the ranch to her realization of the horrible crimes she committed.

Charlie Says doesn’t make excuses for the actions of the three girls, but it does show how they were manipulated. The Sharon Tate and La Bianca murder scenes are horrifying. Listening to an actress portraying Tate, begging for her life and that of her unborn child gave me horrible chills. I found myself having to look away a few times because I was so uncomfortable. The film only goes out of its way to identify a few of the participants of The Family, but true crime fans will find themselves able to identify many of the major players in the case.

Charlie Says is an incredibly well done film. The direction from Mary Haron exceeded my expectations for the film and writer Guinevere Turner captures the essence of the book The Family, from which Charlie Says was based. This is not an easy film to watch, and sensitive viewers will find themselves having a hard time with this one. For those who have always wondered how young women could be manipulated into murder, Charlie Says will provide answers. It thankfully does not glorify Manson or his followers, but shows just how misguided they were.

Charlie Says opens in Los Angeles and New York May 10th.

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