The Manor (2021)
After suffering a stroke, former dancer Judith Albright (Barbara Hershey) moves into a nursing home, only to discover a supernatural entity is preying on the residents. Written and directed by Axelle Carolyn, The Manor is not only a creepy and compelling work, but is also a sensitive examination of themes concerning old age, independence, and vulnerability. Carolyn’s screenplay demonstrates, in an unforced way, how unsettling and frustrating it can be for older people to move into a care home, experience a loss of independence, and be (however well-intentioned) treated like children by those who care for them.
The story is familiar: upon arriving in a new home, a character suspects that not all is as it seems. She gradually becomes aware that something sinister and possibly supernatural is invading the space, yet no one believes her, citing her recent traumas and overactive imagination. During her first night, Judith glimpses a dark figure lurking over the bed of her roommate. Before long she suspects that some of the staff, and indeed some of the other residents, are involved in something diabolical. Carolyn’s direction reveals in a very gradual way the encroachment of the supernatural, relegating the shadowy visitor to the darkened corners of the screen before its revelation at the climax.
The screenplay really fleshes out the character of Judith and invites the audience to sympathise with and root for her, and a remarkable performance from Barbara Hershey enables the audience to gain a real sense of Judith as a person who has a life outside of the film’s running time. Hershey not only conveys Judith’s fierce intellect and independence, giving her a sense of quiet grace, but also her moments of vulnerability, as she struggles with her recovery and the more authoritarian attitudes of staff at the nursing home. Refreshingly, Judith is not solely defined by her ailments or her age: she also has a wicked sense of humour, a matter-of-fact approach to proceedings, and a warm, genuine friendship with her grandson.
Hershey is joined by a fine cast including Bruce Davidson (Willard, Lords of Salem), Fran Bennett (Wes Craven’s New Nightmare) and Jill Larson (The Taking of Deborah Logan) – fellow residents at the home who are a little sceptical but understanding of Judith’s claims that something is going bump in the night. With no one to turn to, Judith’s sense of helplessness is where the horror of the piece truly emanates.
The Manor is a creepy, at times moving meditation on the real-life horrors of growing older, the physical and psychological changes we go through, the freedom we lose. It also suggests that maybe, just maybe, some people may be prepared to do some truly horrifying things to hold onto youth for a while longer…