Since Paranormal Activity made its way into movie theaters in the late 2000s, Blumhouse Productions has dominated the horror genre. Amongst the studio’s lengthy list of original movies, Blumhouse has produced the Insidious franchise, Unfriended, Get Out, Happy Death Day, Freaky, and the Halloween update. If saturating the cineplexes wasn’t enough, Blumhouse kicked off a new partnership with Amazon Prime in 2020. Specifically, the venture, Welcome to the Blumhouse, saw the production studio release eight new horror movies direct-to-streaming on Amazon Prime in 2020 and 2021. Though critics were lukewarm on most of the releases, the deal provided opportunities for up-and-coming filmmakers. And the most recent release, The Manor, earned enough praise for a ‘Fresh‘ rating.
Following a minor stroke, Judith Albright, a former professional dancer, chooses to move into an assisted living home. Though she’s still quite capable and healthy, Judith doesn’t want her daughter and grandson to watch her decline as her Parkinson’s diagnosis advances. Though the assisted living home is nestled in a quaint old home on quiet grounds, Judith immediately sense something is wrong. Late at night, Judith sees a shadowy figure standing over her bed. Other residents rapidly decline around her. Unable to leave the premises, Judith must convince someone that her fears are real, not a symptom of advancing dementia.
The Manor’s Familiar Mystery and Light Scares Work for Most of the Movie
In spite of some good production values and Axelle Carolyn’s capable direction, The Manor always feels like a ‘streaming title’. Nonetheless, The Manor’s setting gives the movie some Gothic undertones, thereby enriching its early atmosphere. Carolyn works well with light and shadows, creating a bit of visual mystery alongside the story itself. Don’t expect too much in the way of scares. There’s a few decent jumps liberally spread throughout the movie. But The Manor plays more like a light supernatural mystery. Not much tension …
…The Manor’s setting gives the movie some Gothic undertones…
Fortunately, Carolyn milks her story’s mystery for all its worth in the movie’s first half. She immediately establishes some danger for Judith and dangles hints all while carefully ratcheting up the stakes. However, while the mystery is interesting and keeps you hooked, it’s hard not to feel like you’ve seen much of this play out in similar movies. Some of The Manor’s plot feels formulaic, rarely deviating from a conventional thriller template. Many viewers may figure out the thriller’s big reveal long before happen. And when The Manor hits its third act, there’s a bit of perfunctory feel to its conclusion. The Manor underwhelms even if its overall effect is satisfying.
The Manor Casts a Light on a Subject That Demands More Attention
If not all of its horror elements work from start to finish, The Manor’s thematic focus on aging and treatment of the elderly resonates. Almost immediately upon her arrival, paternalistic staff and doctors patronize and infantilize Judith. No cellphone, limited outdoor privileges, bedroom door locked at night, and physically coercive staff – Carolyn’s screenplay casts an uncomfortable spotlight on the social discarding of seniors. Occasionally, The Manor feels heavy-handed in how it ties this theme to more conventional thriller tropes. Watch enough horror movies or thrillers and you’ll see plot after plot where no one believes a protagonist. Here, The Manor uses this typical skepticism to further illustrate we all to often dismiss the elderly.
In addition, Barbara Hersey’s (The Entity) winning performance ensures the supernatural thriller is watchable from start to finish.
Even it may feel familiar, The Manor’s themes elevate the movie. In addition, Barbara Hershey’s (The Entity) winning performance ensures the supernatural thriller is watchable from start to finish. She turns in a strong, layered performance as ‘Judith’ that offers audiences a compelling protagonist. And Judith’s relationship with her grandson not only adds an emotional core to the movie but also shows a maternal relationship not often seen in movies. As a longtime home resident ‘Roland’, the always reliable Bruce Davison exudes plenty of charm and just enough mystery to wonder if there’s more to the character than meets the ye.
The Manor Offers Well-Paced, Light Supernatural Thrills
For nearly two-thirds of its runtime, The Manor is a fun bit of Gothic horror and mystery. Nothing here approaches ‘classic’ or ‘hidden gem’ status. If you’ve watched any horror movie, there’s a familiar set-up and trajectory. But Carolyn executes this familiarity quite well achieving modest levels of tension. Unfortunately, The Manor’s reveal and ending don’t match that early promise. What’s left is a climax and conclusion that underwhelm but without tainting the movie’s overall experience. Throw in Barbara Hershey’s winning performance and The Manor is an evening well spent.