Only a Canadian could make a campy pseudo-musical film about the Manson Family. While perhaps fading from the memory of those not alive at the time, Charles Manson is still one of the icons of crazed cult leaders and serial killers. Director Reginald Harkema (A Girl is a Girl, Monkey Warfare) creates a visually stunning romp through the late 1960’s that uses fairly standard imagery to ask some interesting questions. Is it really possible to learn from history? And if so, do some people even care to do so?
Leslie is an all-American girl: a good student from a good family, who will probably get married and have a good family. That is, until her father leaves the family and Leslie devastated. She gets pregnant, her mother forces her to have an abortion, and she becomes a flower child. Leslie then finds solace and purpose in the arms of Manson and his followers. Perry is a straight-laced Christian boy who is studying chemistry. He is surrounded by a family who believe the gun is the way to save the world for Jesus, and a girlfriend who won’t let him go below the neck without a ring on her finger. Perry is assigned as a juror to the Manson trial, where he becomes infatuated with Leslie. The clash of these two cultures at this time period is not unexplored territory; rather it is in the execution that Harkema challenges the viewer.
Virtually every shot is thought-out to the last detail, making it a visual feast. Harkema knows how to centre his camera, so the viewer is forced to listen to the words and see the visuals as both complement and contrast. By stripping away subtlety and a certain amount of reality, Harkema exposes the hypocrisy of both extremes. This richness lays bear the arguments put forth by both sides: the blind hypocrisy of Perry’s father and his rants on the “godless commies” as well as Mansions on the “fascist pigs” sound like so much empty posturing.
Ryan Robbins is particularly striking as Charlie; he conveys his strange and powerful seduction through wild and disarming eyes. Complemented by solid performances by the rest of the cast, Harkema creates a campy yet believable society. The end is not surprising, but it isn’t meant to be. Regardless of the facts, most people will take security no matter the lives it might cost, American or otherwise.
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