The Manor isn’t necessarily a good film, but it’s a fun enough lite-horror outing that reflects an improvement from the Blumhouse/Amazon team-up.
The law of averages dictates that it was bound to happen, but it still comes as a bit of a shock that the latest Amazon/Blumhouse streaming venture, writer-director Axelle Carolyn’s The Manor, isn’t entirely awful. In fact, a glass-half-fuller might even label it as not bad, although the bar has been set so low from previous entries that perhaps this is simply a case of skewed positivity in the face of dire expectations. But there’s something genuinely compelling about The Manor, beginning with the presence of Barbara Hershey, here playing a former ballet prodigy named Judith Albright who, upon suffering a stroke at her 70th birthday party, voluntarily places herself in the titular elder care facility, fearful of becoming a burden to her daughter (Katie A. Keane) and teenage grandson Josh (Nicholas Alexander). It only takes a few nights in her new surroundings, however, for Judith to realize that something isn’t right, as fellow patients behave strangely and the staff seeming to possess little sympathy for their plights. Is Judith simply suffering from dementia brought on by her recently diagnosed Parkinson’s? Or is there truly a tree bark-covered demon roaming the halls and sucking the life out of the elderly guests?
The Manor rather ingeniously teases out this mystery for the majority of its short running time, using the ravages of aging as fodder for genre thrills. While this description might immediately bring to mind last year’s similarly-themed Relic, The Manor has no patience for any kind of insightful or allegorical take on dementia. In fact, the film is far more reminiscent of a particularly spritely episode of Tales of the Crypt, right down to its sharp turn into camp during its Scooby Doo-like climax, and an ending that makes little sense thematically or with what we have come to know of its characters, but which provides a bit of cheap irony and a light guffaw as the credits roll. The filmmaking on display, meanwhile, couldn’t be more obvious, with Carolyn bathing her daytime scenes in a golden cascade of streaming sunlight that contrasts sharply with the nightmarish horrors encountered once dusk settles. Honestly, any scene that occurs in the daylight recalls nothing so much as an especially cringeworthy advertisement for feminine hygiene products, which can’t possibly be a compliment any filmmaker is angling for. And on the whole, The Manor isn’t particularly frightening, mostly built around a number of cheap jump scares courtesy of loud bursts of music, while the demon in question resembles an angrier Groot from Guardians of the Galaxy, which robs him of much of much of his menace. There are the occasional decapitated birds here and there, and a black cat that emerges whenever a patient is about to die (a tired trope most recently seen in Doctor Sleep), but Hershey helps things by managing to find hidden depths within her elderly Scream Queen, empathetically demonstrating how the mercilessness of aging can rob an individual of both their agency and dignity. She also gets a nice assist from Bruce Davison, popping up as a fellow patient and who probably deserves more than a 10-minute appearance in something this minor, but he does get to hilariously scale down a brick wall courtesy of some truly awful CGI, and he tries to get his beak wet with Hershey, so that’s some fun worth watching. The Manor isn’t necessarily a good movie, but there are worse ways to spend 80 minutes before you search for your next streaming horror fix. For Amazon and Blumhouse, after mostly delivering duds across the past two Octobers, we will consider that a win.
You can currently stream Axelle Carolyn’s The Manor on Amazon Prime Video.