Welcome to The Blumhouse—or more so, welcome to The Manor come Oct. 8 on Amazon Prime.
‘The Manor,’ is part of the latest installation of the horror series on the streaming network, which debuted last year and is choosing to highlight female voices in the genre for this go-around. This film in particular, written and directed by Axelle Carolyn takes the notion of strong women in the genre and runs with it, and the result is a Barbara Hershey-led vehicle of twists and turns that supports an even stronger message.
Hershey plays Judith, who we see at the beginning of the film checking herself into a nursing home alongside her daughter and her grandson, whom she happens to be very close with. Although Judith isn’t bed-ridden, her time at the nursing home seems to diminish her typical day-to-day respect from people: She can’t leave the house alone, at some points she has to be restrained, and mostly, when a series of paranormal and horrifying happenings occur, no one believes her. But, as with most films of the genre, there’s more that meets the eye.
For Carolyn, the film is not just an ode to horror, which she loves, it’s also a look into aging overall and the role models we have of a certain age. As we all know but might not really think about, we all will age eventually, so in Carolyn’s eyes it’s a way to explore the way we do and how we treat people of a certain age.
Carolyn sat down to discuss the personal fear that provoked the horror film ‘The Manor.’
Where did the idea for ‘The Manor’ come from?
I think it’s that idea of you write what you know and what you’re actually scared of. I’m sure that like a lot of people, one of the things that I’m most stressed about is aging and seeing people around me age. Even as a child, I kept thinking I’m going to see my mom get old and become this other person… You know how we look at older people almost like they’re a different breed and we don’t know how to communicate with them? There’s a very strange way of treating people once they get over a certain age and I found that very intriguing and very terrifying. Thematically, I just think that there was something there that I wanted to explore.
Also, with the nursing home, I saw two members of my family end up there and as soon as they ended up there, again, the way they were treated was such a striking experience. The moment you’re there, it feels like people don’t believe you, people don’t let you run out of the house, or if something were to happen to you—if you saw something supernatural—I don’t know how people would react or help you. People instinctively distrust what you have to say. My dad had dementia and he ended up having to be tied to his bed at night—how scary is that? It’s just all of those ideas coming together and thinking you know what, this is breeding ground for horror and it’s also something deeply personal that I care about.
How has the process been making this film since it was so deeply personal?
I think it started out being more about dementia originally… I played much more with the idea of: Is she losing her mind or is she not? Which is a trope of horror movies nowadays anyways. [But] I started pushing it in slightly different directions, at first it was nuanced by, again, the experience of seeing my dad with dementia and that was much more the direction it was going.
Then, it turned out to be more about my own personal fears of what does it mean to get older? What kind of role models do we have for people at that age? Usually you see, especially for women over a certain age, [representation] in a way that’s not very exciting. I wanted to have women who dressed really well and who looked really good and who were charismatic and funny. The thing with Barbara Hershey, she embodies all of that and she’s someone who is an equal with her grandson: She’s funny. And he’s not there because it’s his grandma and he needs to go visit, he goes because she’s fun and she’s great and she’s someone you want to hang out with. I wanted to see more people like that onscreen because it gives me hope that you don’t become obsolete or you don’t have to [when you get older.]
Was Barbara someone you had in mind right away for Judith?
She was. This was a really hard role to cast. When you reach a certain age and you’ve had the career that she has, do you want to make a horror movie where you’re being chased around by monsters in a nursing home? So, I didn’t even know if we could go there or approach somebody like Barbara. It requires a lot of guts to do a role like this and she was very vulnerable, she’s playing both sides of that personality.
She’s both someone who is fragile and who is in a nursing home, she needs some care in some ways but at the same time she’s so strong and she’s so powerful and she’s so determined and she’s not taking sh*t from anyone—she has that whole side to her that is really endearing. It’s finding someone who can embody both and is willing to do that. Barbara is willing to treat that like a drama with great seriousness and focus and ground the whole thing.
How would you describe Judith’s journey in the film?
You know with the typical character arc, you have a character who has a need and a want and you try to fulfill their need in a way that seems reasonable and appropriate. In this case, I think that we go in the more juvenile direction and give her what she wants. She doesn’t really change as a character, but I kind of love that. She is very strong and grounded and knows what she wants, and in the end when she gets the chance to get it—she gets it.
Blumhouse is doing something interesting with highlighting female directors in horror. Was that part of the appeal for you?
The script actually got to them through Amazon, and I love that they’re doing this. To be honest, I wish that this was the baseline of every company. As long as we have to have a mandate to find diverse voices, there will be an issue. As long as have to talk about oh it’s a woman who directed or, oh, it’s a person of color or it’s a trans person who directed—that’s the sign that there’s an issue. No one bats an eyelid when a series of films is made entirely by a white dude, but I’m very grateful to get this chance.
I also think the industry still has a lot to accomplish, but I’m so glad that it’s changing. When I started out, there were a couple of women who were prominently directing horror movies—Kathryn Bigelow was such a trailblazer, but I didn’t have anyone around me that was trying to do that. The moment that I realized that this was what I wanted to do, I think unconsciously it was hard to see myself in that role because I didn’t know anyone who was doing it. So, that has become an important thing for me to try to create more visibility and be surrounded by more women who want to do horror movies. If someone is doing a horror movie, I’ll reach out to them on Instagram and say, ‘Hey, I would love to see what you do’ and create friendships and support each other.
What is it that you like about horror?
It always appealed to me. As a kid it just seemed the most imaginative, it’s a world where I find a lot of comfort. It’s something that if I could find myself in a an old, spooky house wearing a long dress and drinking the blood of innocent people—that feels like a comforting place to me.
I think as a filmmaker it’s also a wonderful chance to explore metaphors and explore themes, like we do here with age. And you can do it in a way thats not too depressing or too on the nose. You can tell people your opinions on things or your feelings on things that make them feel a certain way without them not necessarily realizing, oh I am shocked the way we treat older people or I am questioning the way I’m speaking to my grandfather—because that’s not what it’s overtly about. I love that, the power of the metaphor is often underrated.
‘The Manor’ will premiere as part of the Blumhouse Series on Amazon Prime Oct. 8.