Leslie, My Name is Evil

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      Starring Gregory Smith and Kristen Hager. Rated 14A. Opens Friday, May 21, at the Cinemark Tinseltown

      In this theatrically loose-limbed take on the events leading up to and following the 1969 Tate-LaBianca murders in the Los Angeles hills, Canadian writer-director Reginald Harkema fictionalizes the participants.

      Watch the trailer for Leslie, My Name is Evil.

      Things rest on an invented character, the genially conformist student Perry (Gregory Smith), who is hounded by his right-wing swinger of a dad (Peter Keleghan, playing against comic type). Perry’s back story is parallel to that of our stand-in for Charles Manson enabler Leslie Van Houten, played by Valemont’s Kristen Hager. A good girl from an uptight, upper-class family—she’s traumatized by the assassination of John F. Kennedy—Leslie craves paternal attention. And she gets it from wild-eyed Charlie (the perfectly cast Ryan Robbins, unrecognizable from Battlestar Galactica), who utters the line, “Leslie, my name is evil,” upon meeting her. If that isn’t truth in advertising, I don’t know what is.

      The colourfully assembled film, which could never be accused of realism, spends some time depicting the peculiar mindset that festered at the Manson ranch, resulting in an escalating set of grisly murders—somehow tied together with sex and religion by Manson and with garishly theatrical delight by the filmmaker.

      After the mostly female cult is captured and put on trial, Perry finds himself on the jury that will determine their fate. What’s really at stake, though, is the lad’s belief system, suddenly clouded by his own carnal interest in the charismatic Leslie and slightly undone by insights into a culture that chokes creative expression and valorizes nasty behaviour.

      I’m not sure the courtroom scenes, with Don McKellar as a noxious prosecutor, always support that case, but the film itself—if not taken too seriously—manages to say some pretty scary and darkly funny things about how we got where we are today.