In its second installment, Amy Berg’s Evan Rachel Wood documentary Phoenix Rising continues to strike a delicate balance. As with Part One, the revelations that the actress and activist shares about her alleged grooming and abuse by rock singer Marilyn Manson are devastating. Even so, the doc remains a heartening and affirming exploration of the bravery it took for Wood and her fellow survivors to speak out.
In February of 2021, Evan Rachel Wood publicly identified Manson (legal name Brian Warner) as the abuser she’d described in her gutting 2018 testimony before Congress about surviving sexual assault. The two were in a relationship from 2006 to 2011; after Wood named Warner as her abuser last year, four additional women came forward to accuse the singer of abuse and filed civil lawsuits against him.
Warner, who remains under investigation by local authorities but has yet to face charges, did not respond to any specific allegations in the documentary but has denied “any and all claims of sexual assault or abuse of anyone.” He has also sued her for defamation.
In Phoenix Rising Part Two, Wood claims that Warner hacked her emails and surveilled her activity during their relationship—and that he tortured her after she ended their relationship by tying her to a kneeler, hitting her with a Nazi whip, and shocking her body with a Violet Wand.
But Wood isn’t the only person accusing Warner of gruesome treatment in Phoenix Rising. At one point during Part Two, we observe a meeting of several Warner survivors—all of whom brought with them terrifying memories of their time with the singer.
Warner’s former assistant, Dan Cleary—who publicly voiced his support for Wood and the singer’s other accusers in 2020—was also present at that meeting. He recalled Manson forcing him to record the death threats he made toward one of his girlfriends. An ex of Warner’s recalled being thrown against a wall as he held a baseball bat and threatened to smash her face with it, all because she’d been trying to get him to pick out a pair of pants. Another said he fractured her nose during a fight.
Around the time that Twiggy Ramirez rejoined Warner’s band in 2008, Wood said, she and Manson moved to a new home—and it was there, she said, “where all the torture happened.”
“I got isolated in the house for months and couldn’t leave,” she said. “He started to yell at me all the time and he really started breaking me down with military tactics. Sleep deprivation, freezing cold temperatures, keeping me isolated.” She also suspects he began adding meth to the drugs they were taking.
Wood recalled lying limp as Warner began raping her in her sleep on multiple occasions. She said she’d often tell herself, “Just don’t move” until it was over, at which point “he would just fling my leg and walk out of the room.”
When Wood decided she wanted to leave Warner, she called her father—whose sister allegedly showed up at the house with a pistol to help her pack her things while Warner was away. Wood went to stay with her father in North Carolina, but her mother’s phone soon began ringing incessantly; when she finally answered, Warner told her he’d been cutting himself for every time Wood didn’t answer the phone. On one occasion, as the singer shared in an interview, he called Wood 158 times in one day.
Loved ones urged Wood to get a restraining order, but she worried it would only make Warner angrier. She returned to Los Angeles to “defuse” the situation, and recalls putting Neosporin on all his cuts. Then, she said, he tied her up and tortured her when she tried to leave—tying her to a kneeler and hitting her with a Nazi whip emblazoned with a swastika. (Wood is Jewish.)
Warner allegedly hit Wood repeatedly in the same place to intensify the pain. Wood also alleges that he used a Violet Wand—a BDSM sex toy that delivers high-voltage electrical current—to shock her welts and genitals, at which point she jerked so hard that she broke the kneeler in half. Warner then allegedly held Wood as she cried, cut his hand, and made her drink his blood before drinking hers.
Wood recalls dissociating during the abuse, after which she and Warner reunited as a couple. Wood alleges she tried to leave multiple times after that, but the singer repeatedly managed to coax her back. When she left to film Mildred Pierce, Wood recalls learning she was pregnant; Warner, she said, was constantly forcing her to switch birth control and refused to wear a condom. She had an abortion—after which Warner allegedly demanded that she make him dinner.
At this point, Wood became suicidal and eventually attempted to take her own life. When she woke up she called her mother, who helped her find a mental health facility where she could safely recover. There, Wood determined that she would use her knowledge of Warner’s manipulation tactics against him so that she could leave safely. When she departed to film The Ides of March, she’d resolved she wouldn’t go back—and she didn’t.
Since leaving Warner, Wood has had to learn how to manage her PTSD—which manifested in night terrors, chronic pain, and social habits she herself didn’t understand, like lying about things unnecessarily.
The strength of Phoenix Rising is Berg’s choice to center Wood’s strength throughout, even as her story grows increasingly wrenching. The doc ends, if not on a light note, on one of hope.
Wood, who always wanted to be a mother, now has a child—whom she cuddles and dotes on in several scenes, including one in which they light a menorah together on Hanukkah. We sit with Wood as she prepares to meet with the FBI and afterward, as she reflects on the meeting. And we witness the fateful moment in which she posts the statement where she finally named Warner as her abuser.
“This is the first time I haven’t been doubted or questioned or shamed,” Wood says through tears after speaking with the FBI. “This is the first time that someone was really listening, and they had support there... It’s this feeling of being believed.”