Some families have secrets that are darker than others.
When straight-laced lawyer Nick has his odd, adopted brother Conrad come to town for a visit, things get a little weird with their family. Issues have arisen between them since their father passed away, and Conrad never went to the funeral. He had always been harboring thoughts that he was treated poorly by both his father and Nick throughout his life; that he had been treated like an outsider because he was the adopted one, and not really the true son or brother.
This leads Conrad on an interesting path in life, as an artist and a bit of a wanderer. He sells all of his possessions, and ends up visiting Nick. From here, he convinces him that they should tour the sites of the Manson Family Murders, the ones that gripped the nation with fear, bringing evil into a simpler time in American history.
Conrad, played by Linas Phillips, is a quirky individual who would prefer to camp in the backyard rather than sleep inside, and is obsessed with the Manson murders. He wears Manson shirts, gets genuinely giddy at the sites of the Tate and LaBianca houses, and wants to get as close to “Charlie” as possible.
Manson Family Vacation is a dark comedy, to say the least. The subject matter is consistently heavy, and the interviews with Manson interspersed with the film manage to elicit the creepiness that only he can, still, all these years later. There are moments of lighter humor, but it is never possible to disassociate with the fact that it is trying to make light of perhaps one of the grizzliest, most infamous crime sprees in the history of the country. Not something to take lightly, even if the film tries to.
Conrad is always on the verge of taking things too far, and his flirtations with the Manson family, and the current members, is truly terrifying for Nick. Yet through the unlikely events, it allows the brothers to discuss their past, and realize the wrongs that they have committed, all while Conrad is trying to connect with his own demons, and his own past. In pretty much the least normal way possible.
Manson Family Vacation was not as good as I expected it to be, but it provided some good moments, and some very surprising twists. It is an interesting film to be sure, and speaks to the odd connections that people are able to have, perhaps even if they have never met. It may not be funny enough to be considered a comedy, or dark enough to be considered a pure drama, but it lies at an awkward place in between. It is a good film, and one worth checking out. The characters are pretty interesting and generally likable, and the film does a good job of exploring the ways in which people need to reconcile their own pasts in order to be able to move forward as functional adults.
Purely based on the traumatic subject matter, Manson Family Vacation is worth checking out. It is a strange journey into a coming-of-age story that is definitely unlike many others out there.