Review: Powerful ‘Phoenix Rising’ shows how Evan Rachel Wood found the strength to speak out
In HBO’s two-part documentary “Phoenix Rising,” Evan Rachel Wood recounts the alleged abuse she endured during her relationship with shock rocker Marilyn Manson, beginning with how they met when she was a teenager in 2006 up through her painful decision to publicly name him as her alleged abuser in 2021.
The film, which premieres Tuesday and continues Wednesday, makes the case that Wood was “groomed” by the singer when she was just 18 and he was 37, setting her up for a four-year relationship in which she claims he repeatedly drugged her and threatened her life while isolating her from friends and family.
Court records reviewed by The Times and nearly two dozen interviews portray Manson as a transgressive artist who mistreated and isolated women.
Wood claims in the film that Manson’s sadistic, violent behavior included raping her on camera while shooting his 2007 video for “Heart-Shaped Glasses”: “I was coerced into a commercial sex act under false pretenses,” she alleges. “That’s when the first crime was committed against me.” Manson (a.k.a. Brian Warner) declined to comment on specific allegations made in the film but in a previous statement denied “any and all claims of sexual assault or abuse of anyone.” Earlier this month Manson sued Wood for defamation over her sexual abuse allegations against him, which he claims are a “malicious falsehood.”
Wood was a child actor whose big break came at age 14 in the provocative film “13,” a picture that launched her career but also set her up for “Lolita”-like roles in Hollywood. Manson rose to fame in the late 1990s and early 2000s with provocative music, a ghoulish appearance and twisted iconography: Hollywood glam meets Nazi symbolism meets satanic ritual. Wood was dating Jamie Bell and Manson was married to Dita Von Teese when the two met at a party at the Chateau Marmont.
In the film, director Amy Berg (“The Case Against Adnan Syed”) chronicles Wood’s downward spiral in testimonials from Wood and her family. Once in Manson’s world, he controlled her, they allege: She was denied sleep, lost weight and was addicted to drugs. She branded an “M” on her inner thigh via scarification. But the film doesn’t spend all its time on the toxic affair.
“Phoenix Rising” also follows Wood and friend Illma Gore as they scour old emails and hard drives for evidence to submit against Manson. And there’s footage of Wood campaigning to pass the Phoenix Act, a bill to allow victims of sexual assault an extended statute of limitations to file charges. The act was passed and in October 2019 signed by California Gov. Gavin Newsom.
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The film is an authentic and brave effort that works two-thirds of the time, when it’s not bogged down in needless animated interludes likening Wood to “Alice in Wonderland.” Segments dedicated to issues with her family, and father in particular, feel overworked. Mood-setting scenes around the house, with her son on a swing set and so forth, are likely meant to capture the precious moments of normalcy in her journey to heal and seek accountability, but they feel more like filler. The film could also use more voices to fill out the picture rather than relying so heavily on Wood’s family.
The most powerful part in the documentary arrives in the second half, when a group that includes Manson’s former girlfriends and a former male employee meet to support and validate one another’s experiences. It assuages the fear and tension that’s been tormenting Wood throughout the film because here she is believed, and she’s not alone. By the film’s end, Wood’s emotional journey coalesces around one moment: publicly naming Warner as her abuser on Feb. 1, 2021. Shaking, she pushes “send” on the social media post and weeps.
When: Part 1, 9 p.m. Tuesday; Part 2, 9 p.m. Wednesday
Rating: TV-MA (may be unsuitable for children under the age of 17)
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