As the expression goes, getting older beats the alternative, but that doesn’t mean getting older is all that great. That’s the reality Judith (Barbara Hershey) is initially wrestling with in The Manor. After a Parkinson’s diagnosis, the former dancer decides to check herself into an assisted living facility—the Manor of the title—just after her 70th birthday.
Her grandson Josh (Nicholas Alexander) objects. After all, Judith helped him and his mom Barbara (Katie Amanda Keane) when they needed it most. So why shouldn’t they help her? Judith, however, doesn’t want her family to have to witness her daily unraveling.
The Manor is Worth a Drop-in Even if it Doesn’t Know How to End the Visit
When it starts to seem some skittering dark demon is hunting the Manor’s residents, however, Judith tries to change her tune. Unfortunately, the harder she advocates for herself, the more the people she’s trying to convince think she’s sinking into dementia. It’s the quicksand of rest home situations: she has to fight like Hell to survive, but the more she fights, the more people think she should stay in the dangerous retirement community.
The whole “I’m not crazy, but every word I say sure makes people think I am” thing is well-worn by this point. Its success or failure depends not on its surprise; it’s been used too often for that. Instead, it sits with the performances selling it. That writer-director Axelle Carolyn’s script only briefly flirting with “the protagonist begins to wonder if they are delusional” trope is a tremendous relief. Hershey filled with equal parts fear and righteous indignation is way more interesting than her few moments of “what if I’m am wrong?” brooding.
Hershey and Alexander’s grandparent-grandchild chemistry is the film’s biggest asset. It’s great to have a different interpretation of the usual teen-senior citizen dynamic. Moreover, it gives Manor its only fundamental emotional dynamic as Josh’s confidence in his grandmother begins to waver. Judith’s possible death is obviously the biggest stake, but the possibility of their relationship fracturing is a close second.
While the Manor ends up being a plenty spooky place, Carolyn never gives a great idea of the geography of the home. Rather than disorienting, which could be effective, it gives the impression that the movie only had enough money for a hallway, bedroom, and common room set for the indoor shoots. When focused on shadow and light, however, she fares better. The movie’s monster isn’t the scariest when finally fully revealed, but the glimpses of it build dread well. Additionally, the times her lens catches shadows that turn out not to be the demon ratchets up the tension without bothering with jump scares.
You’ll likely see the twist coming, but it’s still satisfying, especially while we are still in a pandemic that the selfishness of several has prolonged. The dialogue spouted by the characters to justify their actions feels realistic enough that, despite the supernatural elements, it isn’t hard to map their choices on those made by people around us every day.
Unfortunately, what Judith and Josh do after exposing all the secrets feels similarly predictable but less resonant. What seems intended to challenge our impressions of the duo only elicits a bit of a shrug. The brief epilogue involving an outdoor celebration ends Manor on a creepy note of celebratory immorality. Still, the choice itself never hits with the sensation of sickening corruption it is so obviously chasing.
As with all the “Welcome to the Blumhouse” features this year, The Manor never connects its punches as hard as intended. However, it finds redemption in some well-done lighting and the film’s central relationship.