Here are the quick movie reviews for Diane and The Haunting of Sharon Tate.
The lack of perspective is a major theme of Diane, but in a way it’s also just what happens in it. Film critic turned writer-director Kent Jones delicately alters the idea into the mundane action of modern life. Even on its surface, this is a subtly epic story about a woman staring death in the face and struggling to see its reflection in her own life. It’s as depressing as it sounds, but told with such articulate sadness that it eventually achieves a Paul Schrader-esque, hallucinatory-like calm as it uses the ordinary to reach the transcendental. We meet Diane (a heartbreakingly brilliant Mary Kay Place) as she sleeps at the foot of her cousin’s hospital bed, the terminal cancer patient (Deirdre O’Connell) wide awake and looking at her with whatever pity she can still muster up for someone else. Diane is very much like a sailor using her own bare hands to scoop out water from an already sinking ship: She’s a retired widow who now spends most of her time helping the other people in her life and doing what little she can offer to help them (that often being playing gin, serving food at a local soup kitchen or simply offering others company).
As the movie carries along, it becomes increasingly clear that Diane feels responsible for most of the damage. Is her apparent selflessness motivated by love or guilt? Is it her fault that her adult son (a petulant and great Jake Lacy) is a heroin addict? As long as she keeps moving and making her lists and checking things off, she’ll be okay. In Diane everything is constantly changing, and yet we’re naturally distracted from the temporariness of all things. You can see it, but only when something causes you to take off your blinders and look at what’s around you, what’s right by your side. For Diane, that trigger is often a death, but it can also be something as small as a meal at a diner that used to be a different restaurant years back. Everybody knows that they’re going to die, and yet it still requires a little nudge from the universe to remember that they’re not going to live forever.
Mary Kay Place in Diane
As you might have guessed, Diane isn’t exactly a laugh riot. And yet, for all of its morbidity, it’s not an unpleasant thing to watch. The cast permeates each scene with a gentle vibrancy. The collective humanity on display keeps the story grounded, as each loss contributes to a fine portrait of that eventual moment in life when the engine finally breaks down and everything seems to fall apart before your eyes. But what begins as a well-drawn, anti-dramatic character study begins to uncurl into something more cosmic as the deaths mount around Diane. Time starts to jump ahead, people disappear and the film acquires the dreamy feeling of life itself, passing by like the blink of an eye. It grows even more elliptical and dreamlike, as Jones shifts our focus from the known to the unknown, from the life of the body to the life of the spirit. Not unlike David Lowery’s A Ghost Story, Kent Jones’ fiction debut (he’s previously directed film history documentaries) embraces the disconnect between the modesty of its size and the endlessness of its scale, using the former as a lens to better see the latter. It’s a sand-grain portrait of life on Earth; a non-judgmental story about trying to reconcile meaning with meaningless before the well runs dry and the rain begins to fall once again.
The Haunting of Sharon Tate
The Haunting of Sharon Tate is a ghoulish film that dramatizes the heinous slayings of Sharon Tate, Jay Sebring, Wojciech Frykowski, Abigail Folger and Steven Parent by the Manson family. Those brutal murders, here, are dramatized like a tacky pulp thriller, using snippets of documentary footage to remind us that this story is true and deserves a much more respectful and nuanced treatment than writer-director Daniel Farrands seems able to provide. The lost lives of Tate, Sebring, Frykowski, Folger and Parent are here reduced to stock horror archetypes, trapped in a script so underwritten it’s hard to imagine someone typed it out and thought it was worthy of making, trapped in a thriller that’s ultimately insulting, with a conclusion that strives for wisdom and fails in spectacular fashion.
The Haunting of Sharon Tate takes inspiration not just from the murders, but from the story that, one year previous, Tate (Hilary Duff) described a seemingly prophetic dream in which she was murdered in a similar fashion as she ultimately was. Farrands takes this premise and uses it to fill his film with rug-pulling nightmares and contemplations on fate. It’s eye-rollingly on-the-nose for Tate to ask her friends if they feel like they’re “slaves to their own destiny” in a film that’s already leading to a gruesome, foregone conclusion. Practically every scene in this movie lands with a heaping thud, sometimes forcing characters to change personalities mid-sentence, like when Steven Parent instantly transforms from awkward kid to ranting conspiracy expert when he discovers that Charles Manson used back-masking in his music.
Hilary Duff in The Haunting of Sharon Tate
Not much in this film works really at all. The cinematography by Carlo Rinaldi is functional at best, and the editing by Dan Riddle chooses some of the worst possible moments to insert documentary footage, only further reminding us that these murder victims were real people who deserve better than this. Among the cast, not a single one makes any impression. At the center, Hilary Duff’s performance is bogged down by repetitious mannerisms and inflections, and rarely seems like anything more than a somewhat passable imitation of Tate. The Haunting of Sharon Tate is an astoundingly tasteless movie, half-heartedly produced and insensitively conceived. Whatever experimental Daniel Farrands might have had on his mind doesn’t come through at all, as the film ultimately reveals itself to be a grotesque sightseeing tour of human misery, exploiting five tragic deaths for cheap “scares.” It’s not only the worst that the horror genre has to offer, but will likely be the worst that 2019 has to offer as well. Or at least I hope so.
Images via: IFC Films & Saban Films