CHARLIE SAYS – Review by Jennifer Merin

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Charlie Says is a truth-based narrative that explores the lives and mindsets of the vulnerable young women who were key members of Charles Manson’s ‘family’ and were brainwashed into complete acceptance of his warped philosophy–and into following his orders in daily life and in the unimaginably brutal 1969 slayings of actress Sharon Tate and friends who had gathered at her Los Angeles home.

Directed by Mary Harron and scripted by Guinevere Turner with Karlene Faith (based on Faith’s interactions with the women and her writings about them), with Ed Sander’s book The Family as an additional resource, the narrative focuses in particular on Leslie van Houten (Hannah Murray), Susan Atkins (Marianne Rendon) and Patricia Kenwinkle (Sosie Bacon) who were tried and convicted for the murders.

Much of the film’s action is set in prison, where the three convicted women are serving life sentences. They are segregated from the other inmates, but they routinely meet together for a prison-sanctioned theraputic study group under the tutelage and guidance of Karlene Faith (played by Merritt Wever), who gently challenges the women about their ongoing belief in Manson and unquestioning acceptance of his ideas , and delves into their unwavering loyalty to him.

In flashbacks leading up to the murders and imprisonment, Harron effectively dramatizes Charles Manson’s (Matt Smith) callous recruitment of the young women and establishes their communal ‘family’ lifestyle of obedience — doing whatever demonic Charlie says to do and believing without question whatever political and social theories he espouses. The family lifestyle scenes are harrowing in that they are presented as though the aberrant behavior were entirely normal. They reveal how easy it was for Manson the sociopath to exercise complete control over his devoted acolytes who were, in the end, also his victims.

Charlie Says is a fascinating film, a psychological thriller that is utterly compelling even though you know the story’s outcome and the fate of the three women at its center.

Charlie Says had it’s US premiere on May 1, 2019 at New York’s Tribeca Film Festival. It opens in theaters on May 10 and becomes available on the Internet on May 17.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Charlie Says is AWFJ’s Movie of the Week for May 10, 2019

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Jennifer Merin

Jennifer Merin is the Film Critic for Womens eNews and contributes the CINEMA CITIZEN blog for and is managing editor for Women on Film, the online magazine of the Alliance of Women Film Journalists, of which she is President. She has served as a regular critic and film-related interviewer for The New York Press and She has written about entertainment for USA Today, The L.A. Times, US Magazine, Ms. Magazine, Endless Vacation Magazine, Daily News, New York Post, SoHo News and other publications. After receiving her MFA from Tisch School of the Arts (Grad Acting), Jennifer performed at the O'Neill Theater Center's Playwrights Conference, Long Wharf Theater, American Place Theatre and LaMamma, where she worked with renown Japanese director, Shuji Terayama. She subsequently joined Terayama's theater company in Tokyo, where she also acted in films. Her journalism career began when she was asked to write about Terayama for The Drama Review. She became a regular contributor to the Christian Science Monitor after writing an article about Marketta Kimbrell's Theater For The Forgotten, with which she was performing at the time. She was an O'Neill Theater Center National Critics' Institute Fellow, and then became the institute's Coordinator. While teaching at the Universities of Wisconsin and Rhode Island, she wrote "A Directory of Festivals of Theater, Dance and Folklore Around the World," published by the International Theater Institute. Denmark's Odin Teatret's director, Eugenio Barba, wrote his manifesto in the form of a letter to "Dear Jennifer Merin," which has been published around the world, in languages as diverse as Farsi and Romanian. Jennifer's culturally-oriented travel column began in the LA Times in 1984, then moved to The Associated Press, LA Times Syndicate, Tribune Media, Creators Syndicate and (currently) Arcamax Publishing. She's been news writer/editor for ABC Radio Networks, on-air reporter for NBC, CBS Radio and, currently, for Westwood One's America In the Morning. She is a member of the Critics Choice Association in the Film, Documentary and TV branches and a voting member of the Black Reel Awards. For her AWFJ archive, type "Jennifer Merin" in the Search Box (upper right corner of screen).