Welcome to the Blumhouse, a series of films created by genre powerhouse Blumhouse and Amazon Studios, released their two final projects this week with The Manor leading the way.
Directed by Axelle Carolyn (Soulmate), the film centers on a woman named Judith Albright (Barbara Hershey), a vibrant widow and former ballet dancer who suffers a mild stroke at her 70th birthday party. Three months later, at her own request, she enters into a posh nursing home to aid in her recovery and remove the burden she feels she could become to her daughter and grandson (Nicholas Alexander), with whom she has an undeniable bond.
Things are, of course, not what they seem and a terrifying, shadowy creature looms in the periphery, setting Judith on edge. As she tries to uncover the nursing home’s secrets, she finds a target on her back as she tries to protect herself and her fellow residents.
Hershey so easily sits as the star of The Manor that it feels effortless. She brings weight and dignity to a role that feels, at times, that it was written on the fly with little thought to character reasoning much less development. She reminds us of her star power, her talent, and the fact that it’s been far too long since we’ve seen her in a leading role. She’s certainly no stranger to genre work. Her previous roles in films like The Entity and even her supporting role in Insidious, however, gave her much more to work with as an actress.
Here, she sometimes looks as though even she cannot believe some of the decisions her character makes, especially toward the end. Still, she employs her craft to sell them as best as she can.
Hershey is joined by a talented supporting cast including Bruce Davison (Insidious: The Last Key), Jill Larson (The Taking of Deborah Logan), and Fran Bennett (Wes Craven’s New Nightmare).
Davison is easily one of the most talented character actors of his generation. He has an easy, soothing manner that belies his character’s intentions in The Manor and it works well. Larson, meanwhile, brings her undeniable charm to the role of fashionable Trish, roommate of Bennett’s Ruth whose weight as an actor radiates from the screen.
All three of these fine actors manage to make something of their roles in The Manor. Sadly, most of the rest of the cast seemed less lucky.
Stacey Travis and Shelley Robertson’s entire direction sent them down a rabbit hole of performing a watered-down version of Nurse Ratched and Nancy Linehan Charles’s performance–while one of the more intense in the film–felt repetitive, hitting the same notes again and again without any development.
That lack of development showed in most of the film’s plot. Carolyn’s direction seemed unsure of itself. She seemed uncertain as to whether she wanted to build tension for the audience or simply try to scare them occasionally with something unexpected.
What does work is the setting itself. The nursing home which could easily be the setting for any number of Gothic ghost stories with its stone facade and sprawling grounds looms as The Manor with proper weight and gravitas.
Props must also be given to Carolyn for drawing upon a different source for her evil than we would normally see in these types of situations as well as telling a story that takes place among retirees instead of fresh-faced twenty-somethings. That part of her film is the kind of potential we love seeing in a filmmaker. Give us something new to sink our teeth into and you’re halfway to winning us over.
Sadly, this particular effort seems unrealized. With its rickety plot and the rather large holes in it not only make for a bumpy story, but also creates pacing issues throughout the film. Even at a mere 81 minutes, there are times when it almost feels too long.
Still, if you’re looking for a different kind of horror story, there are things to enjoy in The Manor. The film’s creature design is interesting and honestly even terrifying at times, and again, there’s Barbara Hershey.
Take a look at the trailer for The Manor below, and look for it on Amazon Prime!