This shambolic but not entirely uninteresting low-budget horror flick clearly aims to cash in on the continuing public fascination with 1960s cult leader Charles Manson, who died in prison in 2017. However, it barely engages with Manson or the stories around his so-called “family” of followers, or what is significant, in cultural terms, about the murders they committed in Hollywood in 1969. Manson’s name here is little more than a boogieman – like Satan, or Hitler, or Freddie – to establish a creepy tone for a story about evil hippies with malign intent. This is not to suggest that the film would have been better if it had been more Manson-y, just that it is a missed opportunity to add more texture.
The first act introduces us to a good-looking, white-skinned, shiny-haired Los Angeles-based couple who are obviously headed for a bad time, in classic Texas Chainsaw Massacre style. Tianna (Katherine Hughes, pretty good despite the material) is an aspiring actor up for a role in a film about Manson. Her partner Mitch (Josh Plasse) offers to film an audition tape for her in the desert, and is secretly planning to propose. The two are a relatively new thing, having met at a support group for grief; Tianna’s fiance died from cancer, and Mitch lost a parent. They arrive in a remote but lushly appointed Airbnb house, but something doesn’t feel right. Mitch keeps seeing a circle that suggests an ouroboros – a snake eating its own tail – scratched into the soil near the front door, a symbol that also appears branded into the skin of a super-skeevy gas station attendant (Will Peltz) he keeps running into. It also seems as if someone is walking on the roof, or watching through a window as they make love.
Director Remy Grillo, whose first film this is, is the son of C-list actor Frank Grillo; Grillo père appears as the final evil Manson-worshipping foe, alongside Jaime King as his wife. Apparently, while being interviewed on a late night talk show, Frank Grillo joked about how the first cut of this film was the worst movie he’d ever seen, which must have been a bit brutal for Remy. A few more passes through the editing suite have improved things, but the film is still a raggedy-assed mess, with apparently significant characters’ stories pruned back to stubs and loose endings like blasted shards. If nothing else, whoever owns the Airbnb house in real life must be pleased, because it looks like a sweet crib.
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