SXSW15 Review – Manson Family Vacation (2015)


Manson Family Vacation was one of four films at SXSW with a Duplass Brothers connection.   The Duplass Brother’s production company has supported some of the best, funny and moving indie comedies from the last few years’ (eg. Safety Not Guaranteed, Bad Milo, The Skeleton Twins) so hopes were high for all the films the Brothers were involved with.

Conrad (Linas Phillips; Bass Ackwards, Togetherness) pays a visit to brother Nick (Jay Duplass; Transparent, The Mindy Project) and his family on the way to go work for a not-for-profit environmental group. Nick is the elder, responsible family man, Conrad the younger misfit who has more than a passing interest in Charles Manson and the Manson Family murders that took place in the late 60’s/early 70’s.

Much to Nick’s protest, the two brothers go on a tour of Manson Family murder sites, including the houses of the Tate and La Vianca murders. As they get further into the tour and to Conrad’s new job working with Blackbird (Tobin Bell; Jigsaw in the Saw films) it becomes apparent that there’s more connecting Conrad to the family than just a passing interest in the macabre of the murders.

The dynamic between the two brothers is electric. Being the straight responsible sibling, the palpable resentment from Nick towards his younger brother for bailing on his father’s funeral is intense. Then on the other side you have Conrad who’s feeling of being misunderstood and the black sheep of the family have put a wedge between him and his brother. A lot of this is conveyed without dialogue and is testament to solid performances from both Phillips and Duplass.

In my SXSW preview I suggested that this film maybe had similar themes to my personal favourite Duplass brothers film Jeff, Who Lives at Home.   In some ways there are similarities in the brother’s dynamic and relationship, however Manson Family Vacation has darker moments. Like Jeff…, Manson Family Vacation made me think a lot about my relationship with my own hippy brother, who thankfully isn’t a Manson Family obsessive, but does sport a similar shaggy mop and beard as Conrad does in the film.

This is the first feature by writer/director J. Davis who previously worked with Jay Duplass on documentary short Kevin. It’s a bold first feature, dark at times but also wittily funny and a really fantastic portrayal of a brotherly relationship.

The exciting news is that the film has been picked up by Netflix for distribution worldwide so it should hopefully be available to watch later this year. I’m still hoping we get to see it in cinemas here in the UK, but whether it’s on your flat screen or at your local cinema mainlining popcorn I urge you to watch this film.


Alice Hubley

Genre: Comedy, Drama Venue: SXSW15 Rating:TBA Running Time: 84 mins Director: J. Davis Cast: Jay Duplass, Linas Phillips, Tobin Bell,Leonora Pitts, Adam Chernick

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About Alice Hubley

An encyclopaedic knowledge of indie music references in film and TV, Seth Rogen movies and 60's drug movies. I can also quote 90% of Revenge of The Nerds. Recent favourites... Inherent Vice, Whiplash, Obvious Child, Beyond Clueless, The Possibilities are Endless, X&Y Kelly & Cal, They Came Together, White God

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