Sometimes people you see just remind you of someone you know. That’s trivial, right? But what’s not so trivial is when you see someone in a film, and you think, “well, this is how such and such a person will look like when they will be 70.” Next thing you realise is, they would probably get upset if you said that, so you think, “ok, I’d just add to that that one day we’re all going to be at that same place playing cards, watching tv and sharing memories so this way it wouldn’t sound like they’d be on their own amongst strangers.” Because no one likes the thought of being old and on their own amongst strangers. Or so we may think. Axelle Carolyn’s Welcome to the Blumhouse installment The Manor, released earlier this month, suggests that being amongst strangers in certain circumstances can be someone’s desire. That made me wonder if there are cases when people at nursing home don’t feel like they are amongst strangers – if the world has left them behind and not much in it is recognizable anymore, and nursing home to them is like one little island of the yesteryear and its world. Or perhaps they have ended up being like unwanted kids and there’s more love at nursing home than at any other place they can think of?
This is the journey through depths of my mind that The Manor caused, and the last thing I have expected to be thinking of while watching the film was psychotherapist.
Judith, the lead heroine, is someone’s grandmother, and her reason for checking in to the manor, a historic nursing home, is that she is being considerate of her close family members due to the state her health is in. The actress in this role is Barbara Hershey of Insidous and The Entity fame whom at first I couldn’t recognize at all. Yet what reminded me of someone I know was, first and foremost, her smile. Coupled with the art of applying make-up it conjured a vision in my mind of a woman I know, and that, in turn, took me back in my memories to elementary school where there’s a girl sitting at the desk behind me, and she's drawing horses. Today I’m watching The Manor thinking that the common thing that connects it to the girl from my memories is not just that smile, but mane as well; the horses in girl’s drawings were always getting gorgeous, abundant mane similar to how abundant used to be girl’s hair, and how abundant it is on the head of The Manor’s Judith. Unlike Judith however the girl from my memories was never known to be a ballet dancer despite what seemed to be a seemly posture and figure during her late teens (that coupled with some fine facial and neck features sometimes got me thinking that those days she should have been drawing herself), but what I do know is that she went on to become a psychotherapist later on in life. This made me wonder how very different the film would have been with Judith being a psychotherapist instead of a dancer – one who’s art and skills are ever really shown only during a short scene that reminds me a bit of one in the Evil Dead II with Ash’s girlfriend Linda dancing all the while not being very alive. What we do see a lot more however is Judith being good at research and solving mysteries; something that, coupled with similar talents her grandson is sporting, essentially saves her life.
To some extent The Manor is a creature feature. It’s difficult to think about what effect a discovery that monsters are real could have on a lifelong psychotherapist, but a character with the background like that would definitely require the game an old colleague of Ms. Hershey – Bruce Davison (they were in lead roles next to each other in Last Summer drama as far back as 1969) is playing in the film to be more complex. The background of Davison’s character is not provided, and neither is that of any of the two women he is friends with at the manor thus we can’t really know how such character would affect their way of getting to know unfamiliar people, but in my mind, if such veteran nursing home residents would stumble upon a psychotherapist, they’d have to be double as cautious if they had nefarious intentions towards that sort of newcomer. There would be a lot of possibilities here. Take that same smile I was referring to before, for example. Did you know that psychologists can use smile, which can involve engaging anywhere from 4 to 13 to 22 muscles, to determine if the person is telling the truth? I think incorporating that into a screenplay could instantly provide it with a 'level up'.
But we have what we have here; The Manor, even with all the condemnable agendas and choices, is a light, moderate horror. It exploits, revealed only during its finale, a very obvious something that a few elderly people would love to be able to have, and which will likely have that elderly audience make jokes about each other. Perhaps a more complex plot would have indeed been detrimental when it comes to engaging the audience.
And yet, the finale is also quite a powerful message to younger generations. It can be empowering if right now you think your life lacks meaning and purpose. If you are in your 20s or 30s or 40s, imagine something sneaking into your house through an open window, sucking all the lifeforce out of you and now you end up in a nursing home, being in your 70s... What would you give to have your life back, and what would you do with it?
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