Edinburgh International Film Festival

Manson Family Vacation (2015)

Starring: Jay Duplass, Linas Phillips, Tobin Bell, Leonora Pitts, Davie-Blue, Adam Chernick

Directed by: J. Davis

Rating: 1 2 3 4 and a half

Linas Phillips and Jay Duplass as brothers Conrad and Nick take a Manson Family VacationEvery year I like to take a punt on something at the Edinburgh International Film Festival that's out of my horror comfort zone. Sometimes this pays dividends (Pluto, Sin Nombre), sometimes not so much (Sun Don't Shine, Tender Son).

Manson Family Vacation, a low-fi indie drama about two brothers attempting to bond over a trail of horror history sites, is this year's punt. And I'm happy to report that it's paid off in spades, because the film is a real gem.

Nick (Jay Duplass) and his adopted brother Conrad (Linas Phillips) are chalk and cheese. Straightlaced, uptight lawyer Nick is a hard-working, law-abiding family man, while free-wheeling Conrad is a failed artist and environmental enthusiast with (to Nick's mind) an unhealthy interest in darkness and death. But when Conrad pitches up at Nick's LA home, keen to share his new obsession with notorious murderous mastermind Charlie Manson through a trip round the sites of the infamous Tate/LaBianca killings, Nick reluctantly agrees to accompany him. What transpires is not the stream of tedious ‘hey dude’ mumblecore monologues I'd feared, but an absorbing, moving and darkly comic tale with an unexpected sting in the tail.

Filmed on location at the murder sites and out in the orange dust of the Californian desert, and flowing with naturalistic, almost documentary-style dialogue, Manson Family Vacation is like the best found footage horror flick you've never seen, without being either found footage or a horror film. (I know, I know, and this coming right after Maggie, the Arnie zombie film with no Uzis or people getting their heads ripped off. What is the world coming to?)

The prevalence of Manson in the public imagination, whether as epitome of evil or green guru, is a little hard to fathom as a Brit - but then again we're no strangers to obsessing over and exploiting the death and darkness in our culture either. Jack the Ripper tour, anyone?

Thoroughly entertaining and also thought-provoking, Manson Family Vacation is both an engaging study into the dynamics of a sibling relationship, as the brothers come to know each other better and the power balance between them shifts, and a blackly funny look at murder tourism. in 2003, when reviwing the highlyt distasteful The Manson Family, I observed that 'there is a fascinating, insightful and chilling film to be a made about the Manson Family.' Twelve years later, this just could be it.

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