Everyone has heard of Charles Manson and his dysfunctional extended family, so it is to the credit of writer and director Brandon Slagle that his new film feels so fresh and interesting. Instead of focussing on the more seedy or tabloid-filling antics of one of America's most notorious characters, House of Manson instead explores the psychology behind The Family; the influence Charles had over his followers and how that manifested itself so destructively.
Following Manson from childhood delinquency through to the orchestrated murders of Sharon Tate and others that resulted in his incarceration, Slagle's film quietly observes the unfolding events with resigned trepidation. The strength of the film truly lies in the portrayal of Manson himself; Ryan Kiser's performance is laced with menacing charisma, and as the viewer you find yourself drawn into his overwrought urban sermons that enraptured his followers. Under Slagle's direction, the character is also unpleasantly sympathetic at times, presenting the irrational with heartfelt rationality and displaying a softness not often seen in other versions. That said, the brooding malevolence is never far from the surface and Kiser carries a psychopathic glint in his eye throughout.
The murders themselves do feel slightly separate from what has gone before, but this does add to the shocking nature of them. They are committed with a cold calculation that belies The Family's initial sense of love, and the brutality is unflinching, explicit and much more in keeping with the outright horror this could have been. The film may not fully succeed in finding a balance but if nothing else is true to the source.
House of Manson also doesn't become weighed down with procedure or protracted courtroom exposition. Slagle has chosen to use flashbacks to advance the narrative, with Manson discussing the case with a defence attorney as the framing device but this never becomes tedious or threatens to overpower the film itself. Instead, the story is allowed to develop through the characters. Alongside Kiser the supporting cast all inhabit their roles with conviction, with Devanny Pinn outstanding as the chilling Susan Atkins, whose involvement in the murders is both crucial and deeply upsetting.
For those familiar with the story, House of Manson won't offer any new insights or conclusions but it does present a different slant on a character whose infamy shows no sign of abating. Slagle's film is of interest though, built on excellent performances and subtle, almost documentary-like direction that draws the viewer in. For those not so familiar, this film is a worthy introduction to a character that warrants further investigation.
HOUSE OF MANSON / CERT: 18 / DIRECTOR & SCREENPLAY: BRANDON SLAGLE / STARRING: RYAN KISER, DEVANN PINN, TRISTAN RISK, ERIN MARIE HOGAN, SUZI LORRAINE / RELEASE DATE: OCTOBER 26TH