Axelle Carolyn has been a lover of the horror genre from the beginning of her career. Ever since her jump from sitting in front of the screen to being behind the camera as a director, Carolyn has honed her craft to tell human stories through the genre that scares us most. For her new movie, The Manor, premiering on Amazon Prime Video as a part of “Welcome to the Blumhouse,” we were able to sit down and talk with Carolyn about life, death, and the fear of growing old.
So, how did you come up with the idea for The Manor?
Carolyn: It came from seeing my granddad and then my dad in nursing homes and partly the emotional toll that it takes on you seeing someone you love end up in the nursing home. How they’re treated differently and how they kind of slowly turn into slightly different people from the person you knew. I was dealing with those feelings but at the same time and I’m also a huge horror nerd. I see things through the prism of supernatural stories and when you see a house where you have to type in a code to get out because people want to keep you in, where if you have a tendency to be loud, or say things that people don’t like, they will lock you in your room. If you try to leave your bed at night, and you fall, then they will tie you to your bed; like, holy shit, this is perfect for a horror movie. These are horrifying kind of subjects that society needs to address. But at the same time, it’s perfect for this kind of story because it’s exactly that-the essence of horror. When people take away your agency and take away your credibility.
I totally understood that. The Manor had a really good way of showing anxieties and worries of putting parents in a home. A fear I share as well. So watching that just made that even more realistic to me and I was glad that someone else felt the same way.
I think it’s pretty universal. I think at every age, we have to deal with those concerns, whether it’s our own age, or it’s somebody else’s. That’s just nature. That’s just how it goes and it’s funny that we try not to address it in movies most of the time. We try not to have older characters on screen, because it’s almost like we want to forget about it. As a society we want don’t want to think about it. When you picture yourself at 75, most likely there’s no clear picture that comes up, because it’s almost like your mind refuses to imagine yourself as that person and that’s fascinating, because it’s still you. You’re gonna change, but it’s still gonna be you.
That’s really interesting that you bring that up. I saw that you’ve made another film called Soulmate, and it felt kind of like you’re dealing with the same kind of themes as The Manor. Dealing with death and trying to reclaim that memory, but also in a very dreamlike state. So I was wondering if that was something that you were aware of and trying to focus more on in The Manor?
I think they’re slightly different themes. I think at the end of the day, if the stories you’re telling are true to you, how you feel and who you are, then there’s always going to be common threads and common elements between them. I would hope that people would watch what I do and that they kind of see who I am through that. Soulmate definitely had a lot to say about death but more with the idea of grief and how you get over that and go on with your life. Having lived a very sheltered life up to that point, it felt like I couldn’t anymore. I didn’t know how to deal with the idea of losing someone. I think that’s actually around the time that my dad started having dementia. I hadn’t thought of it but the story that ended up being Soulmate was in some ways almost a little bit inspired by that. It was, “how am I going to deal with grief the day it happens? How am I going to deal with it?” After my dad passed away, I wrote The Manor and that became a whole different story, but still kind of the same questions How do I deal with this? How do we understand the weight of what it means for us to be older. What does it mean for us to have to see other people get older, Those kinds of questions. I can’t even deal with the idea that my dog is getting older.
I completely get that. I also saw something else in your films. Nature, flowers, and forests tend to really be involved with your work, too. Is that something that you also embrace to show that kind of cyclical sense of nature and death?
Yeah, I like that idea. I guess that’s kind of — it’s funny, because I’m a city person through and through. I’ve always lived in big cities and I’ve always had trouble imagining myself in the countryside. I think now that’s something that I can kind of see. There’s a beauty to the countryside that I love. The fact that I don’t get enough of it just makes me crave more. So it’s just that visual aspect of it, that’s fantastic but also there’s that sense of renewal. Somehow everything I’ve shot seems to have been shot around Halloween time. The time where nature kind of starts dying, or starts decaying. It seemed like it was very appropriate for something like The Manor, unfortunately, because we shot in L.A., you can’t really tell the season here. But the idea when I wrote it was very much to play with the cycle of life and that imagery of it. Goes back to the druids and the way that they would worship the trees and the elements of nature, and the renewal of nature. They have this calendar that showed renewal and not resurrection because they didn’t deal with those kinds of ideas, just the logical cycle of life. That’s also something that we’ve been, in some ways moved away from as we moved towards the cities and live more away from nature. Originally the movie was called Crones and to me that really captures the sense of rejecting old age. A crone used to be a powerful old woman, and now a crone is just an ugly old woman. It’s like we took power from older people and look at age in a very different way. That’s very much some of the things that I wanted to see in this is film that we don’t see. We don’t see older people as magical anymore, we see them as an inconvenience we need to put away and something we don’t want to think about for ourselves.
So then do you find that horror, like the horror genre itself? It’s just an easier way to kind of explore those ideas for you?
Oh, totally. Because if you were making a drama about something like this, it would be very depressing and very sad. It would be very on the nose and I’m not even sure I would watch it. But if you make it about a monster who sneaks into people’s rooms, it’s a little bit goofy, and a spoonful of sugar that helps make the whatever decision you have or whatever emotion you want feel more fun. There’s all those themes in there, but what I really would like people to know is that this is not a depressing dark movie. It’s a fun supernatural mystery.
The way you describe it also makes it feel almost folklore or a parable. Something that was an older tale especially with the use of the cycle of nature and life. The idea of holding those that came before us in a higher regard because of their knowledge and wisdom. Were you into folklore when you were younger?
I think you’re very right. Those are themes that I’m very interested in and and it’s expressed itself in different ways throughout my life. It’s never been like a major concern, but my dad was he was a college professor and he explored, like, religion, spirituality, and also anthropology. So, he had his study at home full of masks and other things that he brought back from his travels. So, I kind of grew up with that sense that there were many things around the world and many people around the world who think very differently and have different beliefs, but everything seems to have a coherence kind of at the core. I think there’s a lot of things to be learned about nature and without even putting any spirituality into it, just kind of going back to roots and going back into what we and the cycle of life is supposed to be. And I guess that’s very relevant to the story.
Yeah, I can really feel that in the movie. Is there anything else you find a lot of your inspiration coming from lately, now that you’re finished with The Manor?
Well, it’s funny, I’m writing something that takes place in mountains right now. So there’s more nature activity to be seen. I’m very much led by themes, characters and emotions. Rather than thinking “I want to make this kind of movie,” I want to make something about what it’s meant to be. There will be ideas or thoughts that will come through or characters and emotions that I want to express. It’s just like a very expensive form of therapy, I just need to somehow express that through a story that I can put on screen and I have a couple of features that I’m trying to get made right now.
What would you- what is something that you want the audience to kind of take away from after they see it? After they see The Manor?
I would love for the ending to spark a conversation for them. To wonder why someone would be pushed to make the choice that she made. We’re constantly trying to come up with new ways of staying and looking young. We have new surgeries, new products, new pills, new whatever. I’m very much guilty of that, by the way, as much as anybody else. So how far would we go? How far can we go? Why are we obsessed with that? How do we reconcile ourselves with the fact that we all age, one way or another. One of the reasons that I wanted Judas to be that, the character she turned out to be, so charismatic, fun, and aspirational was just because I want to know that you can be like that. I want to have those kinds of role models. I want to think that you can turn out to be someone who people look up to and think it’s awesome.
Yeah, I totally got that. I was really glad I got to see it. I’m really interested in your work and excited to see what you do next.
Awesome. Thank you so much.
The Manor is currently streaming on Amazon Prime Video as part of the “Welcome to Blumhouse” film series.