Phoenix Rising is far from comfortable viewing. In shocking and brutal detail this revelatory two-part documentary recounts the alleged systematic abuse that actor Evan Rachel Wood suffered at the hands of musician Marilyn Manson. He started grooming her when she was 18 years old – Manson was almost two decades older – and over the next four years, Wood says, would violently rape and beat her, as well as using torture tactics. At no point in the film does their relationship sound anything less than absolutely harrowing.
“It’s always really hard to look at photos of myself from before,” Wood says from her Los Angeles home at the start of the first episode, crying while she looks at a smiley shot of her teen self and then boyfriend, Billy Elliot star Jamie Bell.
Everything changed when Wood – an acclaimed young actor who broke out in 2003’s Thirteen – met Manson at a Hollywood party in 2006. Wood was still dating Bell and Manson was married to burlesque model Dita Von Teese, but the rock star pursued Wood virulently, showering her with intense affection – known as lovebombing – until the pair were an item. Quickly, that emotion flipped into a way to manipulate Wood. She recounts the distressing filming of the video for Manson’s “Heart Shaped Glasses” – explaining that this was the first time he would commit a crime against Wood, but certainly not the last. “I was essentially raped on camera,” she reveals of the video shoot, which was long reported to feature simulated sex. “[That was] just the beginning of the violence that would keep escalating over the course of the relationship.”
It’s horrible to hear, and even more disconcerting to watch Wood recount these stories, but she steadfastly believes that it’s her duty, not just in order to stop it from happening again but to encourage other survivors to speak out and seek justice.
The first part of the film focuses on Wood’s attempt to extend California’s statute of limitations regarding the time period victims have to report domestic violence cases. Happily, she manages to help get the Phoenix Act passed, extending the law to five years – yet this is still not enough to tackle her relationship with Manson, which ended in 2011.
Wood refused to name her aggressor during this legal action due to fear of repercussions, but details of her abuse caused other women who had dated Manson to step forward. Fans, actors, models and former employees of Manson, these women all recognised the methods of abuse and humiliation Manson had used against Wood.
The scenes that show the coming together of these women is where Phoenix Rising is at its most powerful, but also its most unnerving. In bracingly intimate scenes, they discuss threats against their lives, sleep deprivation and starvation, as well as being branded by Manson, cut for scarification and being subjected to Nazi-inspired rituals. One even explains how she wanted to kill herself rather than suffer his abuse any more. Wood later reveals her own suicide attempt.
As the FBI begins to investigate Wood’s claims, she decides to publicly name her abuser to spur law enforcement into arresting him. With her family gathered around her, we join the tense countdown to sharing Manson’s name on social media in early 2021. Wood’s hands shake and her father holds her as she presses the Instagram post button.
It seems like a moment of triumph and something approaching closure, but as Phoenix Rising ends – following a written statement of denial from Manson – we are told that no charges have yet been brought against him. Wood’s battle, it would seem, is far from over.
Phoenix Rising launches on Sky Documentaries on 17 and 18 March at 9pm
If you have been raped or sexually assaulted, you can contact your nearest Rape Crisis organisation for specialist, independent and confidential support. For more information, visit their website here.
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