Manson Family

Photo Credit: Courtesy of Logolite Entertainment | Daily Texan Staff

Who knew someone as depraved and vicious as Charles Manson could factor heavily into the lives of two estranged brothers? “Manson Family Vacation” uses the story of the infamous criminal as a backdrop for a surprisingly poignant tale of forgiveness and reconciliation. Director J. Davis incorporates a critique of the idolization of horrific people, but focuses more on the characters than on Manson himself.

As the movie begins, hitchhiker Conrad (Linas Phillips) journeys to L.A. to visit his successful brother Nick (Jay Duplass). Upon arriving, it becomes apparent that Conrad’s true purpose for the trip is more bizarre: He wants to visit the infamous crime scene where Charles Manson’s followers killed their victims. Nick reluctantly comes along, and is disturbed by Conrad’s fascination with the criminal. After the two encounter Manson’s league of modern day followers, Conrad has an opportunity to grow even closer to his idol. Now, Conrad has to decide between staying with the eccentric group or repairing the strained relationship between him and his brother.

The premise could easily describe a dark drama, and Conrad could have easily been conceived as a budding psychopath in the same vein as Manson. Instead, Davis skims over the horrid nature of the character’s obsession. Manson doesn’t even show up in the movie beyond a few moments where he appears in archival videos. This choice elevates Manson to a powerful status — his obscurity makes him near-legendary.

Conrad is characterized as an optimist who connects with Manson because they both had troubled home lives. He isn’t a maniac who wants to hurt people. He just sees "Charlie" as a guy who comes from a similar background. When it comes to the murders, Conrad ignores the terrible ramifications of Manson's crimes with an almost child-like innocence.

Phillips is great as the oddball Conrad, lending charm to his fan-boy like reverence of the Manson Family. Though he undoubtedly is an unorthodox person with strange, downright creepy hobbies, Phillips give him a sympathetic edge. The film is part buddy-comedy, so Duplass plays Nick as the straight, “normal” guy in the pairing. He gives a good performance as a man who feels guilty about sidelining his brother while growing up. Still, Phillip’s character vastly overshadows him with his irreverent, goofy behavior.

There are some interesting aspects of “Manson Family Vacation” that don’t get the deep focus that they should. The clan that Manson inspires even as he sits behind bars is really funny and entertaining. Like Conrad, they too see the man for his utopic worldview, overlooking the violence committed by the original Family members. The issue is that the group's origins aren’t fleshed out. How exactly did they band together as followers as Charlie? Though the big joke of the film is that these people focus on the man’s “goodness” rather than his violent nature, the issue of why they choose to ignore his horrific crimes is never really resolved.

“Manson Family Vacation” presents a great “what-if” story using complex characters and decent, dark humor. It focuses on the brothers’ strained relationship and their journey to see if anything can be salvaged from it. The fact that Manson’s role in ending so many lives isn’t touched on in a significant way is a bit off-putting, but the film cleverly parodies the hippie culture in which the Manson Family arose in the first place. Though it would be nice to delve more into people's obsession with Manson, the film is a clever, funny look at the journey of two very different siblings.

  • Director: J. Davis
  • Genre: Comedy
  • Runtime: 85 minutes
  • Rating 7/10 Family Members

Documentary headliner “Steve Jobs: The Man in the Machine” covers the Apple co-founder’s ascension into super-stardom. The film premieres Saturday at the Vimeo Theater.

Photo Credit: Courtesy of SXSW

South By Southwest’s film festival isn’t just packed with people — the schedule is stuffed with a ton of movies. Nineteen categories of film will be screened from Friday through March 22. With a roster this huge, you won’t be able to see every movie. Below is a list of film categories and descriptions to help decide which movies are right for you. 


Big stars. Big filmmakers. Big premieres. The headliners are the center of attention at SXSW’s film festival. Among them are sci-fi drama “Ex Machina,” the Will Ferrell comedy “Get Hard” and documentary “Steve Jobs: The Man in the Machine.” Are celebrities, red carpets and gala events your thing? The headliners will be right up your alley.  

Narrative Feature Competition and Narrative Spotlight

Ten pictures selected out of 1,372 submissions will premiere at this year’s Narrative Feature Competition. Each of these pictures tell intimate, small-scale human stories. The competition’s roster offers a variety of genres, ranging from romance (“6 Years”) and drama (“Sweaty Betty”) to comedy (“Manson Family Vacation”) and thriller (“THE BOY”). If you want to enjoy the best of the best at SXSW’s film festival, watch any one of these films.

Documentary Feature Competition and Documentary Spotlight

These 10 selected documentary films focus on intriguing real-world stories. The category includes stories of rising musicians growing up (“Breaking a Monster”), Afghan journalists rebuilding the press in their war-torn country (“FRAME BY FRAME”), twins discovering they might have been separated (“Twinsters”) and a former sheriff investigating shootings that his SWAT team committed (“Peace Officer”). These pictures will expand your view of the world and leave you enlightened.  


Movies in the Visions category are bold, innovative examples of narrative and documentary filmmaking. Watch real scientists develop methods to save Earth from potential asteroid impacts in “Disaster Playground” or get grossed out by “Nina Forever,” a horror-comedy about a guy whose dead girlfriend appears every time he has sex with another girl. The Visions films offer a number of perspectives and stories, so give any one of them a shot if you want to experience something new.


SXSW offers some scary and provocative flicks for the nocturnal. The films in this category will screen at midnight. The roster includes “The Corpse of Anna Fritz,” a narrative picture about necrophilia that will make your skin crawl, and “The Nightmare,” a documentary concerning the terrifying nature of sleep paralysis. If you don’t like horror, check out “Turbo Kid,” a post-apocalyptic action picture about a kid battling to rescue the girl he loves. 


SXSW’s film festival gives TV some love with its exciting Episodic presentations. Check out the premieres of shows such as “iZombie,” which chronicles the life of a medical student turned zombie, and “Angie Tribeca,” a police comedy Steve Carell wrote and directed.

24 Beats Per Second and Music Videos

The films in the 24 Beats Per Second category follow musicians and explore the impact of music on popular culture. All but one of the pictures in this category are documentaries. “Hot Sugar’s Cold World” follows young musician Nick Koenig on his journey to create an eclectic album with sounds from around the world. The only narrative film in this category is “Gloria,” a biopic about Mexcian pop star Gloria Trevi. It is a gripping tale about ambition and scandal.

Meanwhile, the music videos will feature artists such as Blood Orange, Hercules and Love Affair, Duke Dumont and more.  


Travel the world with the international films of SXGlobal. Visit Hungary in “Free Entry,” the coming-of-age story of two 16-year old girls, or tag along with two Colombian brothers as they drive mules through the Andes in the documentary “Monte Adentro.” Let yourself be whisked around the globe as you encounter fascinating people, places and cultures through fresh perspectives. 

Festival Favorites

The films of the Festival Favorites category have already received critical acclaim and premiered in other festivals. Have some laughs with “Adult Beginners,” a comedy about a yuppie returning to his childhood home after a financial disaster. Explore a first-contact scenario with aliens in “The Visit.” Learn about daredevil stuntman Evel Knievel and the public affection for spectacle in the documentary “Being Evel.” The movies in this category comprise a film festival within a film festival. 

Special Events

Want to see a classic film on the big screen, be part of a live podcast recording and more? Check out the Special Events at SXSW’s film festival. You can catch a reissue of the classic apocalypse flick “The Road Warrior,” or enjoy “Raiders of the Lost Ark: The Adaptation,” a shot-for-shot remake of the first Indiana Jones movie made by fans. Director Judd Apatow will show his next film, “Trainwreck,” in its unfinished state. One-off screenings and events dominate this category. Want to get the most bang for your buck at SXSW? Take part in the Special Events — you’ll get an experience few others will.

Shorts (Narrative, Documentary, Animated, Midnight, Texas and Texas High School) 

Shorts tell simple stories in elegant ways.  

Some of them deal with real-life issues: In “We’ll Find Something,” a couple struggles with the simple task of finding a place to eat, while “Share” is about a 15-year-old girl whose explicit video has been shared around her high school. 

Some films involve the weird and the fantastic: The simply animated “World of Tomorrow” follows a girl’s journey into the distant future and “CROW HAND!!!” shows the deadly nature of a mysterious totem. 

The Texas Shorts were either shot in the Lone Star State or feature stories related to it. The Texas High School Shorts showcase young Texas talent.