Evan Rachel Wood delves deeply into allegations of domestic abuse against former boyfriend Marilyn Manson in “Phoenix Rising,” a detailed chronicle of the “Westworld” star’s evolution from acting to activism. Yet an equally sobering aspect of this two-part HBO documentary involves Wood’s upbringing in Hollywood, and her memories of being sexualized in movies at an early age.
The headline-grabbing foundation involves Wood’s fight for victims of domestic violence and sexual assault in conjunction with a coalition of other survivors, which successfully lobbied to extend the statute of limitations on such cases in California.
At length, Wood describes meeting Manson, a.k.a. Brian Warner, when she was 18 (he was 37), the beginnings of their romance and disturbing allegations about how she was abused, including a music video in which their interactions prompted concern among members of the crew. Manson declined an interview, but his legal counsel provided a detailed statement to the filmmakers saying that he “vehemently denies any and all claims of sexual assault or abuse of anyone,” and that former partners had “weaponized” consensual relationships into “fabricated horror stories.”
Directed by Amy Berg (“The Case against Adnan Syed”), much of the documentary is devoted to Wood finding her voice to speak out, acknowledging her apprehensions about doing so. She was “terrified” to name Manson publicly, she says, adding that doing so risks “retraumatizing yourself” and “putting a target on your back.” In the second half, she meets with other alleged survivors of purported abuse by Manson, a segment that drags on a bit too long.
“Phoenix Rising” proves most compelling during the first part, which includes a step-by-step breakdown of common patterns that domestic abusers follow to control and intimidate victims. That chapter incorporates Wood’s family issues and history, moving to Hollywood after her parents separated and becoming a child star, appearing in the extremely edgy “Thirteen,” a stark independent film about troubled teens.
Wood, who was 14 while shooting the movie, discusses her discomfort with certain scenes, including one in which she had to make out with a 23-year-old actor. After that role, she recalls being offered various “Lolita”-type parts, and notes that Manson referenced the movie when they first met.
Documented with home videos and excerpts from Wood’s diary, that section in particular presents a damning look at children raised on movie and TV sets, an issue Wood previously addressed in the 2020 HBO documentary “Showbiz Kids,” which in some respects serves as a companion to this.
The documentary clearly comes with a specific mission in mind, shining light on the issue of domestic violence through the lens of Wood’s advocacy. Toward that end, HBO is partnering with RAINN (Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network) and other organizations to ensure that the embers stoked by “Phoenix Rising” don’t end there.
“Phoenix Rising” will air March 15-16 at 9 p.m. ET on HBO, which, like CNN, is a unit of WarnerMedia.