What to Watch Verdict
'The Manor' handles ageism with reverence and common monster stalks, which is enough throughout the modest chiller's succinct duration.
+🖊️ The elder cast
+🖊️ Conversations around death are strong
+🖊️ I support its third-act choice
-🖊️ Some narrative points vanish
-🖊️ Better at bigger ideas
-🖊️ Lacking a truly punchy outro
Axelle Carolyn's The Manor and Gigi Saul Guerrero's Bingo Hell are skewing this year's Welcome to the Blumhouse crop towards elderly allowances not abundantly prevalent in horror. While Guerrero's recreational center takeover is gooey and goofy, Carolyn favors piercing drama as a grandmother stares down dementia.
Our societal uneasiness around old folks' homes as earthly purgatories where seniors take residence before death infects The Manor since Carolyn honors the aged not as husks but glowing souls. Inevitable finality is confronted by those nearest, yet the thematic onus never plays like such dedication to our declining years plucking the lowest hanging gerascophobia fruits (our mortal fear of growing old).
Judith Albright (Barbara Hershey) checks into the Golden Sun Manor Nursing Home after a health scare in front of her family. Grandson Josh (Nicholas Alexander) is distraught over losing his closest companion — "A boy's best friend is his grandmother," reads a text — but Judith assures 17-year-old Josh everything will be alright. Then sterner nurse Elizabeth (Shelley Robertson) confiscates Judith's phone and talks down to Judith after the slumbering patient screams about a creature standing over her bed. Judith is deemed "crazy" based on age and situation — it's like her humanity has been stripped at the worst time imaginable.
The Manor shares themes with heartbreaker lullabies from Relic to The Farewell, except Judith is offered an opportunity to reclaim everything that mental deterioration steals. Carolyn weaponizes the imprisonment of sedative medications and uses supernatural influences not only just for creeper-stalker scares as shadow beings emerge. Judith's pleas and outcries for help that go unanswered represent the attention we pay those in decline as lensed by horror's versatility. The mysteries of Golden Sun Manor shine upon those unfortunate seniors lost within a demographic that's either fought or forgotten, with tinges of compassionate storytelling as Judith faces a system others exploit.
Enter the unknowns and mythologies that The Manor explores, as naturality becomes the tether between drama and terror. Judith befriends the invitationally sweet Roland (Bruce Davison) and encounters often whispered rumors of rampant sexual canoodling in nursing homes — our first introduction to a suspect rune. Judith's encounters with an arboreal minion birthed from Mother Nature introduce allies around the grounds, as believer employee Liesel (Ciera Payton) ensures viewers that any strange happenings most certainly aren't symptoms of medical ailments. The entire narrative becomes a race against time as Judith challenges rules written to protect those within gated lobbies, which unlocks further mysteries beneath angelic treescapes and witchcraft influences that Carolyn injects with Chilling Adventures Of Sabrina experience.
The liveliness of Hershey's surrounding cast from Davison's flirtatious olden boy to ageless cheer-chaser Jill Larson (Deborah in The Taking Of Deborah Logan) juxtaposes those Golden Sun Manor inhabitants in almost catatonic states. Carolyn empowers Hershey to be more than a helpless silver-haired protagonist who might appear in other horror films on the outskirts. Countless conversations over Bridge games or smuggled "grass" discuss the zombification of nursing homes, their dreary stereotypes and to fear not the reaper that cometh. I savor the comfort in Carolyn's message as Judith learns that fighting what's ahead just makes acceptance harder and leaves less time to appreciate however many grains of sand remain in the right bulb of the hourglass.
The Manor unearths phobias that exist not far beneath humankind's surface and is best when Carolyn allows characters to find the beauty in late-stage existences while battling an unknown that haunts our minds and bodies. Narratively, there are some flaws — it's an experience that suffers as plotlines or introduced information fall off radars. Horror spikes rely on monster-man Mark Steger's feral movements while costumed as Barbara Hershey faces the demon she's assured is make-believe. Carolyn attempts to balance bumps in the night with over-the-hill anxieties on a Blumhouse Television production scale — and succeeds, as long as you can appreciate the softer fearlessness on display.
The Manor premieres exclusively on Amazon Prime Video on Oct. 8.
Matt Donato is a Rotten Tomatoes approved film critic who stays up too late typing words for What To Watch, IGN, Paste, Bloody Disgusting, Fangoria and countless other publications. He is a member of Critics Choice and co-hosts a weekly livestream with Perri Nemiroff called the Merri Hour. You probably shouldn't feed him after midnight, just to be safe.