A scene from Charlie Says.

Mary Harron, director of American Psycho, helms Charlie Says, a film about real-life psycho Charles Manson (Matt Smith) and three female members of his “family”: Leslie Van Houten (Hannah Murray), Susan Atkins (Marianne Rendón) and Patricia Krenwinkel (Sosie Bacon).

Harron and longtime screenwriting partner Guinevere Turner try to take an insightful look at the three women during the early portion of their prison sentences, while utilizing flashbacks to show the buildup to the crimes that got them there. Unfortunately, the film makes the mistake of trying to portray the three women as brainwashed victims, with every line delivery accompanied by that patented Manson Family smile.

The film works fairly well when showing life on the ranch with Manson, and the ways in which he manipulated those around him; the brief depiction of the murders is chilling. As for the prison scenes, during which the three women are going through a form of therapy, they alternate between pretty good and very bad.

Harron is a gifted director, and a full-fledged movie about Manson and his followers in her hands might’ve been something fantastic. However, this semi-sympathetic depiction of his “family victims” leaves a slightly bad taste.

Charlie Says is available via online sources, including iTunes and Amazon.com.