Review by Tom Swift
An intriguing, weirdly comic mystery about estranged brothers and the serial killer instinct.
The title of this film, Manson Family Vacation, veers between images of Charlie Mason and Chevy Chase – somehow trivializing what is actually a thoughtful and frightening film. It’s so insightful and non-violent; however, that you can sympathize with the filmmaker’s fear that a hot topic title was needed.
Most films just kill people and don’t give them a second thought. Not here. This film broods about the murders Charlie Manson organized but never committed himself. Or, at least, that’s what the film tells us. The famous Manson tell all, Helter Skelter, is a prop here, and the movie even visits the places where the Tate / Lo Bianco murders occurred. You’ll almost be surprised when these visits don’t turn into gruesome recreations out of CSI. These “touristy” moments feel weird and possibly manipulative in a way you feel you don’t want to understand. Thoughtful, comic non-violence, today, really?
“Beautiful people killed by a charismatic madman who seduces beautiful young women to commit heinous acts” is a concept hard to turn funny. But that’s want the filmmakers want you to buy, And if you check Rottentomatoes, the meter says 88% of the audience wants to see this. Now Just how scary is that? Would a more appropriate title, “Seeking Dad: A Brotherly Love Story,” get even 5%?
But that is what this is really about under all the Manson affiliation. Nick is an LA lawyer with a kid who draws gruesome pictures at school. Conrad is his adopted brother who shows up on his way to Death Valley. Conrad thinks his adopted father abandoned him when Nick was born, and Conrad didn’t go to his dad’s funeral. Conrad wants to visit the Manson’s “sights” and Nick begrudgingly drives his Volvo. But while Conrad seems a little nuts right off the bat, Nick only reveals his wild side as the film rolls along. I mean: just why is he driving his brother to the Manson sites? Quality time? His young son might be a sociopath, afterall, you have to wonder.
Along the way Nick loosens up and the manipulative Conrad slowly focuses, proving to be a devious charmer with abandonment issues. He plays the victim card like a shark. Jay DuPlass stars here and made the film with his brother Mark. The knowing, devious brother stuff that goes on here seems firmly based in reality and this sense of family grounds a helter skelter film.
Jay plays Nick and Linas Phillips plays Conrad. You gotta wonder what the film would have been like Mark DuPlass played against Jay. But, LInas Phillips does a great job might even remind you of Philp Seymour Hoffman.
A spoiler might make waiting for the ending too hard to bear. It gets into the nature of evil, family and celebrity in a way that plants this oddly charming film firmly in your head. Like Charlie Manson. All hail the DuPlass brothers!
** On iTunes & Digital VOD now (via The Orchard) **
** Coming to Netflix October 27th **
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