Axelle Carolyn on Writing/Directing ‘The Manor’

Axelle Carolyn wrote and directed the latest Welcome To The Blumhouse movie, The Manor. We talked about where the inspiration for the film came from, what made her cast Barbara as Judith and more.

The Manor releases on Amazon Prime Video on October 8.

Richard Valero: What was your first job in the movie industry? 

Axelle Carolyn: My first job as a student was working as a clerk in the cinema store where we sold like posters and pictures of actors in the movies, and that was pretty good job — lots of soundtracks as well. I worked in a theater selling popcorn, and then I was a journalist for a bit.

RV: When I look at your full body of work it is very horror film-ish, what were some of your inspirations early on?

AC: Yeah, my whole place is full of, and actually so many monsters. I have the monster from the movie in my bedroom, and I usually do my zooms there, but obviously, it’s a spoiler, so I can’t do it right now, but, I’ve always been into horror. I don’t know. What was your exact question? Sorry.

RV: What were some of your early inspirations within your writing and stuff?

AC: I wasn’t allowed to watch movies when I was little, or very few movies, and definitely not horror movies. So it picked up a lot of books. And I think that obviously, like pretty much everybody, my age, Stephen King, Stephen King, was my second father. Picked up my first Stephen King book when I was probably about ten and which arguably is a little bit young, but it’s not much younger than a lot of people, and it just changed my world. It changed my understanding of what it’s like to be an adult, like suddenly having that first insight into the brain of an adult. And it changed kind of the way that I look at things like grief, for example, you know, Pet Semetary was one of the very first things that left a strong impression on me and, and subjects of death then of grieving were already important to me, even in very young age.

So I guess that was my way of processing those kinds of questions. And as a teenager, I watched the Fly, David Cronenberg’s The Fly, and I was already obsessed with horror imagery and horror. So even though I hadn’t seen a lot of horror movies, I would see pictures of Hellraiser and just try to imagine what the story was. And then they had this whole crazy idea in my head of an alternate Hellraiser. And then I finally got to see the Fly and that what I was really struck by was the fact that it’s scary and it’s really disgusting and the effects were so wonderful, but it’s also incredibly emotional and it made me cry and I’m like in so gross-out, but I’m crying at the same time. And it made me realize how incredibly rich the Horror genre can be. And unconsciously, I think that’s what made me want to go into writing and directing and doing that thing for myself.

RV: What inspired you to write this movie?

AC: From a young age, I was scared of ideas of death and grieving and aging, and seeing most specifically seeing my parents get old. I have vivid recollections of staying up at night as a very young child, thinking of this is going to be terrible. Then obviously, the day that my dad started having dementia made a very strong impression on me. The last few years of his life, kind of seeing his decline, which is not necessarily typical of old age, but, you know, it was like a very abbreviated version, a very extreme version of what age can do to you. And I just needed to process that somehow, I think, and it was the experience of visiting nursing homes and seeing that people are locked inside. 

In some ways, they’re locked with their fears. They’re very isolated because people are not listening to them. And even if you mean, well, even if you want to help them, you don’t know how, because it just feels like we’re not speaking the same language in some ways. And all those things were very scary to me, that idea of having your agency being taken away from you, having that control being taken away from you. And so it was so much about talking about age as much as it was talking about the way we regard older people and all that. Sorry. Oh, that sounds very depressing, by the way. But for anybody who’s listening, it’s not, that’s not the tone of the film, thankfully.

RV: What about Barbara Hershey said she is my Judith.

AC: Well, first of all, I mean, she’s an icon. She is, if you love the genre, you can’t not like Barbara Hershey. She’s not done a ton of horror movies, but the ones that she’s made, she made such a big impression because she is such a very deeply emotional and grounded actor who takes her craft incredibly seriously and will not look at this script and think it’s a monster in a nursing home. This is silly. And she really took it for all the themes that it had and she wanted to discuss every part of that. And what she brought was both that very grounded drama and emotional core, which I knew she would bring because, you know, she’s in Insidious, she’s in Black Swan. She does the same in everything that she does. So she brings that same kind of seriousness to it and gravity, but she’s also hilarious and she’s also gorgeous. And she’s also a lot of things that I want to do to, to be she’s charismatic. She’s someone you want to be around. Like, she’s, you know, she’s fun. So all those qualities, she embodied them and I’ve told her early on in shooting that I felt like Judith was who I’m hoping to be someday. I’m hoping to be that person who doesn’t take shit from people. I’m hoping to be kind of like still in control of my life and my own decisions and everything. And, I think she really liked that. She really worked in that direction. And she’s, I think she created a character, I think is super cool.

RV: Judith makes an, in my opinion, uncharacteristic decision in most movies, and I’ll put it out in quotations at the end of the movie, where did, what, what made you come up with that kind of unique ending?

AC: Well, do you mean uncharacteristic? Cause you feel like it’s out of like it’s out of character and felt like it didn’t gel with who she is?

RV: Kind of. Yes. And I, I love the decision. I loved it. I just thought it was different. You know what I mean? I don’t think most movies would have ended that way and I loved how you ended it. I just kinda wanted to know where you came up with that idea to have her make the decision that she does?

AC: There’s a part of the ending. That’s a little bit of a F*ck you and I like that. I love that. That’s the way I feel right now. If I was given this choice at the point that I’m at in my life if I’m told, would you age gracefully, or would you take this path? F*ck you, I’m taking that path. And it has dark consequences and you can discuss it all day long, but it also says something about the kind of obsessions we have with society. That is how far we will go to try to keep that appearance. But also, she’s making that choice because of the way she’s been treated. She’s the way that things have been taken away from her. Like even her grandson has been taken away from her in some ways, like all those things that she’s been pushed into and she’s like, well, F*ck you guys, like, this is, I’m given that choice. I’m going to, I’m going to go with it. 

And it partly comes from the fact that to me, it feels more truthful. Still, it also comes from the fact that when you think of it and I’m hoping that tracks, cause I spend a lot of time in that. But, still, you never quite know how things come across when you’re not the person who is actually in, you know, in the story, kind of with your nose on the page but a lot of time trying to show that she is rebellious. She is not someone who takes things the way they’re supposed to be. She doesn’t take shit from people. She doesn’t like institutions. She doesn’t like, you know, she’s in some ways the fact that she rebels at the end and that she makes a decision. At no point that we see that she was a particularly, I mean, she’s nice, she’s kind, she’s just fine. But like, we’re not showing that she’s mother Teresa, you know, there’s a degree of selfishness to her in a way that’s hopefully likable and fun. But to me, that tracks to me tracks with who she is.

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