The Asylum is best known (infamous, really) for churning out lower budget, lower quality versions of the most popular Hollywood movies under intentionally confusing titles like Age of the Hobbits or Transmorphers (the latter of which actually has more in common with The Terminator and Matrix movies than with Transformers, in plot if not quality; yes, of course I watched it). These “mockbusters” are cynically and shamelessly created just barely within the boundaries set forth by copyright law for no other reason than to trick well-meaning but out-of-touch relatives into purchasing them as gifts, and maybe for trash-movie junkies like this reviewer.
The Haunting of Sharon Tate is not an Asylum production, but it could not be a more blatant attempt to cash in on the presumed success of the latest Quentin Tarantino film if it sported a title like Happily Ever After… in Hollyweird. I say “presumed success” because Haunting was hastily made and released in the time between the announcement of a new Tarantino film involving the Manson Family and Sharon Tate and its July release. Details about the plot of Once Upon a Time…were kept strictly hush-hush, but fan theories abounded, and a few plucky, barely competent filmmakers apparently took it upon themselves to beat the master to the punch, with predictably dreadful results.
There is no evidence in the historical record that Sharon Tate ever had premonitory dreams or visions of herself and her friends being brutally murdered by crazed hippies, but what this comically inept movie presupposes is… maybe she did? This is the excuse writer-director Daniel Farrands uses to show us the grisly murders over and over again, from increasingly distasteful and tedious angles. Whereas Tarantino gave us a cathartic alternate history of the tragic events, Farrands wallows in them, and while Tarantino could be fairly accused of reducing Tate to a side character in the story, this cinematic atrocity reduces her entire life to nothing but the night of her murder. I will also make the bold proclamation that Hilary Duff, who plays Tate here, is not as good an actor as the Oscar-nominated Margot Robbie, who played the role in Once Upon a Time.
Farrands is certainly not the screenwriter Tarantino is, either, which is of course a particularly unfair comparison when he’s barely the screenwriter a group of stoned philosophy students could be. When not being brutally murdered or stalked, slasher-movie-style, by the various members of the Manson Family, Tate muses on fate and destiny in stilted, pointlessly generic dialogue. The rest of the movie seems to take itself just as seriously, as if Farrands truly believed he could make this punishingly tedious slasher with vaguely supernatural overtones into something profound. A better filmmaker might have accomplished this, though a better filmmaker probably would have aborted this misbegotten fetus of a movie, made all the more distasteful by its apathetic exploitation of a real tragedy, in the early stages.
Farrands and company offer no insight into the minds or personalities of either Tate or the members of the Manson Family, who are reduced to stock home-invasion heavies, little more than shadows called upon for ineffective jump scares telegraphed by an obvious score. Even the horribly misguided Manson clan and its criminally insane leader deserve better treatment than this, to say nothing of their victims. This movie is the cinematic equivalent of pissing on the graves of Sharon Tate, Abigail Folger (Lydia Hearst), Wojciech Frykowski (Pawel Szajda), Jay Sebring (Jonathan Bennett), and Steven Parent (Ryan Cargill), and everyone involved should feel great shame.