Cinema Review: Manson Family Vacation | Under the Radar - Music Magazine
Saturday, March 6th, 2021  

Manson Family Vacation

Studio: Netflix
Directed by J. Davis

Nov 04, 2015 Web Exclusive
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Conrad (Linas Phillips) and Nick (Jay Duplass) couldn’t be more different as brothers. Whereas the older Conrad is nomadic, historically aimless, and somewhat of a perceived slacker, Nick is a straight arrow—he has a wife and son, a powerful, white-collar Los Angeles legal job, a house, the whole shebang. As easy as it would be for them to attribute their differences in adulthood to the fact that Conrad was adopted, he tells his younger sibling that, in truth, they evolved at opposite ends of the spectrum because of how they were treated during their childhood. Nick, the unexpected biological offspring thought impossible, was showered with a love and affection Conrad never received. Now, in the wake of their father’s passing, Conrad shows up on Nick’s doorstep with an idea. He wants to reconnect with his brother and he has the perfect—albeit very strange—idea of how to do so. The two of them will tour the sites of the infamous Manson Family’s killings.

Manson Family Vacation is an atypical and supremely heart-filled road trip in disguise (though it is very much a journey film—literally and figuratively—the men rarely leave L.A. during their trip, and remain somewhat anchored to Nick’s house throughout the tour). Duplass and Phillips are natural as mismatched siblings trying to rekindle their bond, Duplass as the levelheaded Nick trying to reconcile the absurdity of their mission with his clear-cut lifestyle, and Phillips as the live-and-let-live Conrad whose ulterior motives slowly bubble to the surface. Writer-director J. Davis makes an impressive feature narrative debut with Manson, deftly displaying his ability to craft believable, relatable characters within a compelling, unique story. Davis clearly considered the story quite closely when writing his script and making the film; he had to walk a tight line between not making light of the Manson history (and therefore alienating us with the concept), and yet not overburdening viewers with the moroseness of the material. And Davis navigates the waters perfectly. Conrad’s choice of trips is odd and often unnerving, and the unsettledness Nick feels and expresses with regularity, but which he commits to. Through Nick, we’re allowed to feel uncomfortable about the whole experience—the Manson murders remain a terrible chapter in history—and through Conrad, we can appreciate it. Manson Family Vacation is a delight and a surprise, well worth an addition to your Netflix queue.

Author rating: 7/10

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June 25th 2018

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