The first two in this second chunk of “Welcome to the Blumhouse” films, Black as Night and Bingo Hell, were extremely underwhelming. The overall quality was more akin to the direct-to-video bargain bin. Color me shocked, then, that this final double feature, Madres and The Manor, is such a significant step up. It seems that Blumhouse decided to save the best for last, particularly when it comes to The Manor. Madres tackles birth and pregnancy, while The Manor conversely sets its sights on old age and death. I must admit Blumhouse has been clever in its release strategy for all four films; thematically, they compliment each other enough to warrant a double feature tactic.
Of the four movies, Madres feels like it came straight out of a film festival debut. “Inspired by true events,” it claims, so you know you are in for unconventional chills. Madres carries with it an important message about sterilization and the horrors of eugenics. Set in the 1970s, expecting mother Diana (Ariana Guerra) moves to Gold Valley with her husband Beto (Tenoch Huerta). Diana feels like an outsider in every way. Her parents were punished for speaking Spanish in school, so she was never taught. This leaves her on the outside looking in, as their newfound Mexican community in the town judges her and calls her “gringa.”
Diana begins having horrible dead-baby nightmares, and someone seems to be watching her through reflections in the mirror and the shadows on her property. To make matters worse, the town’s Latina women are being targeted, and barely any children are spotted anywhere… Beto does not believe anything is wrong (classic case of horror gaslighting), but Diana will not give up on her efforts to expose the conspiracy. Ironically, the best material here is in the cultural tension between Diana and Beto, as well as the actual ending itself. The horror does not quite fulfill its job. Creepy music boxes, shadowy figures, bad pesticides, and gross rashes can only take you so far. Madres is structured well, and the script from Mario Miscione and Marcella Ochoa has a lot to say. It gets muddled down significantly with talks of curses and spooky necklaces (and would have probably been better served as a drama), but Madres is still passable entertainment with that strong message lying just below the surface.
Switching gears, The Manor (written and directed by Axelle Carolyn) is a different beast entirely. It gives veteran actress Barbara Hershey a meaty role as Judith, a sassy young-at-heart grandmother in the midst of celebrating her 70th birthday. At the party, she collapses due to a stroke, and they determine that the best course of action is to admit her into a home. Three months later, Judith’s grandson and closest confidante, Josh (Nicholas Alexander), is helping her to get settled. Golden Sun Nursing Home seems at first like the perfect fit—but the devil is in the details. On her first day there, one of the aides snatches Judith’s phone. They have a no cell phone policy in the building “for the peace and quiet of the house.” The patients are seemingly sedated for a “good night’s sleep.” Outside walks must be accompanied. It is difficult for Judith not to feel like a prisoner when her only friends become a small group that invites her to play bridge with them.
Of course, being horror and all, it is clear this is not a standard run-of-the-mill nursing home. Judith sees a creepy spectre lurking over her roommate, and no one will believe her. Each night brings with it an unforeseen terror. Judith begins to question her own sanity, as the methods of keeping her “calm” grow more intense. The bodies at the nursing home pile up, but who will bat an eye at natural causes? Judith’s only hope is to convince Josh that something sinister is afoot. The Manor uses gaslighting again, this time shielded by the blame of dementia and old age. Judith is so old and so close to death that she must be crazy, right?
While both films are worth watching, it is undoubtedly The Manor that leaves the most indelible mark on the viewer. Barbara Hershey is fantastic as Judith, and I was rooting for her to overcome her struggles the entire time. The ending seems completely out of left field, but it represents the excellent risk-taking technique of Blumhouse as its finest. Axelle Carolyn crafts a memorable tale that acts as a perfect evolution from her time on American Horror Story, Creepshow, and The Haunting of Bly Manor. Once the reality of Judith’s hellish scenario is fully revealed, it is well worth the wait. Apart from the life and death connections, Madres and The Manor both highlight strong female characters uncovering mysterious conspiracies. Each feel like they have something unique to tell the viewer, rather than retread the tired grounds of last week’s two films. For Welcome to the Blumhouse, this double feature is a well-warranted October treat—especially The Manor.
Madres and The Manor are both streaming Friday, October 7th, exclusively as part of the Welcome to the Blumhouse film series, on Amazon Prime.