On The Manor, from director Axelle Carolyn, terror is a suggestion of the occult. Or it could be, if the filmmaker wasn’t so interested in making it clear at every possible opportunity that there is a hidden secret. The device of announcing over and over that nothing the camera shows is real – or might not be real – wears off soon. And he does it due to a certain clumsiness of the plot of creating a box of mysteries in which what happens is quite obvious.
For better or for worse, folk horror bases its effectiveness on the story’s ability to disconcert. But Carolyn is more interested in thickening the suspense than in narrating what happens outside of something supernatural. Still, the premise about a nursing home, which is much more than might be supposed, is effective out of necessity. Much more with a Barbara Hershey that shows all his experience in the genre with a restrained and brilliant performance. But the big white point in The Manor’s plot is its inability to delve into its own horrors.
The director uses the formula of the newly arrived resident who discovers that something is wrong in an inhospitable place without much coherence. That, despite the fact that Hershey shows the ability to analyze tension from silence. From the first scene, the actress endows her character with something deeper than fear or curiosity. And indeed, it is that slow, sinister darkness of his character that sustains the first hour of the film.
Hershey’s Judith could well be another mystery to be solved. Or a window to an eerie darkness. But Carolyn transforms it into an eye that watches without the slightest intention, meaning, or even purpose. Is it a criticism of the care of the elderly? Or is there something truly supernatural in this seemingly peaceful home?
Back in 2020, director Natalie Erika James created a similar journey with The Relic: Cursed Inheritance. He did so by propping up the horrors of the terrifying house through a witness. In The Manor the effect is doubled but without much interest, intention or power. What ends up turning the horror into small absurd scenes built together without much meaning.
The Manor, the mysterious house that has no mysteries
Judith (Hershey) is seventy years old and just had a stroke. Furthermore, she is a widow and does not intend to be protected. So she makes the decision to confine herself to a nursing home despite family opposition.
Judith’s daughter and grandson are lines that the script does not develop. In fact, both characters seem to just float in a kind of very wide gaze on old age and other sensitive topics. And although they are necessary to express some ideas about pain, they end up being loose pieces. In the end, Judith imposes her opinion and isolates herself from her family. The plot seems to hint that there is some link in what will happen next and the character’s private context. But. again it’s just one trap without too much consistency.
Actually, Carolyn is more interested in showing the horrors of the nursing home. But also there, the movie fails miserably being unable to carefully narrate what is hidden under senseless impositions. Judith is soon isolated and full of suspicions. There is no transition between the woman who decides about her life and the victim locked in a chilling place. But beyond that, the script is so obvious which suppresses the possible paranoid quality and immediately confirms the fears.
In fact, one of The Manor’s great flaws is that its inability to surprise. Either because it follows a specific structure that does not go anywhere or that imitates other similar films, the film immediately decays. Although for the second section, the most terrifying – or what should be – is shown. But Carolyn lacks the ability to fully narrate a mystery that needs a subtlety greater than her own.
Little pieces of many stories
The Manor is a combination of the haunted house genre, with a sense of hospitable horror. The medical corps is divided between the friendly and the sadly parodic of the classic Nurse Ratched. Also, there is a venial and meaningless insistence on show the supernatural immediately. As if the film needed a quick grip, Carolyn fails to create an atmosphere that analyzes time and the enigma Judith faces.
Perhaps the biggest problem with the film is what it promises and fails to deliver. The film stands out in its visual sectionBut in reality, the unhealthy atmosphere it announces turns into a carnival of predictable horrors. For her third act, time seems to stand still, stumbling forward, and Judith fights evil? with no other weapon than his credulity.
The Manor was able to use its best resources in sequences where the camera is an invading eye. But in the end, he decides to pass up the opportunity to look at fear for mysteries that he never answers. If something is missing at The Manor, it is that it can be scary. Perhaps the worst that can be said for a film of the genre. The feature film is available through Amazon Prime Video.