Dead doesn't mean gone.
The Haunting of Bly Manor is a 2020 supernatural horror romance series directed by Mike Flanagan, Ciarán Foy, Liam Gavin, Yolanda Ramke, Ben Howling, Axelle Carolyn, and E.L. Katz, created by Mike Flanagan, produced by Intrepid Pictures, Amblin Television, and Paramount Television Studios, and distributed by Netflix. The series is based off of Henry James's 1898 novella, The Turn of the Screw, as well as other works by Henry James. It stars Victoria Pedretti and Oliver Jackson-Cohen. This is the second series in The Haunting antholoy series. It was preceded by The Haunting of Hill House.
"I was having the strangest dream." - Hannah Grose
Dani Clayton is a young American woman looking for a job in London. When she is hired to be the au pair for two young children who've lost their parents, she heads out to a massive mansion in the countryside to care for the two kids. As she learns more about the past of the children and the other residents of the manor, mysterious occurrences take place around Bly, causing tensions to rise.
Let me preface this with a quick note: I didn't review it, but The Haunting of Hill House was one of my favorite shows of all time. I adored that thing, so I was very much looking forward to The Haunting of Bly Manor.
And one thing that did not disappoint was the character work. Hill House had some of the best characters I've ever seen in a TV show. And I'd honestly say that Bly Manor outdoes Hill House with its character work. The show spends a lot of time deepening our understanding of each character. Individual episodes will focus in on certain characters and let you seep in their trauma and backstory. It makes it so that every character is sympathetic. You understand why every character is doing what they're doing. It makes this one of the most layered and complicated shows I've seen in a while, and I mean that completely as a positive.
The way that the story unravels was also done really well. The story has so many flashbacks that it's almost non-linear, which was also the case with Hill House. I think that works. It allows for some mystery elements that leave you intrigued after every episode, but it also allows for deeper character work, which was obviously the highlight of the season. It's just an interesting and different way to tell a story, and I really appreciated it.
The Haunting of Bly Manor is a tragedy in a sense. There's a lot of death in this show, and it's not the type of death that will leave you feeling satisfied. No. Characters die horrific, horrific deaths. The writers of this show were not afraid to just tear your heart out with how sad some of these deaths are. It does not shy away from horrifying and sad moments, and that was really well done. It served the show and the story better to be tragic and to be depressing.
One thing that did frustrate me slightly about The Haunting of Hill House was the finale. It felt a little bit too allegorical and metaphoric and left me wanting a bit more. Bly Manor is not that way. It caps off the story in a very satisfying way. I thought it paid off the ghost story as well as the various love stories in wonderful fashion. The characters all get satisfying endings, whether they end up alive or dead. And the final shot of this show gave me goosebumps. It was fantastic.
Something that I did not expect from The Haunting of Bly Manor was the amount of romance that was in it. The romantic side was almost as prominent as the horror side, if not more. And, once again, that was an unexpected element that I think served the show really well. The main romance is incredibly compelling. Since you're already very invested in these characters, it's easy to root for them when they fall in love. That romance is contrasted with the twisted romance of the ghosts and other romances that haunt Bly Manor. Once again, it's very layered and complex, and I really loved that.
I haven't read any Henry James novels, but after watching The Haunting of Bly Manor, I did read about how the show adapts his work. The main plot comes from The Turn of the Screw, which is probably his most famous work, but what I found super cool is that each individual episode essentially adapts a different one of his stories. All of the episodes are named after Henry James novels or short stories, and they all use elements from the stories they are named after in the actual episode. That's awesome. If I had actual read Henry James, it would've been even more awesome, but I think that's a super cool way to adapt something regardless.
I've mentioned this aspect in my other praises, but Bly Manor is just an incredibly deep, thematically rich series that has so much to dig into beneath the surface. I always love it when movies or shows stick with you a long time after you've watched them, and both Hill House and Bly Manor have stuck with me. Complex characters and intricate plotting are what Mike Flanagan is really good at, and he brings his A-game again in The Haunting of Bly Manor.
Part of the reason I loved The Haunting of Hill House was its ability to balance superb family drama with this looming sense of dread as well as some of the scariest moments in any TV show or movie ever. Seriously, The Haunting of Hill House had me losing a tiny bit of sleep because of how scary it was.
And The Haunting of Bly Manor does not achieve that balance or that level of horror. It's creepy. There are scary moments. But it doesn't do a great job of balancing the ghost story and the love story. It tries to do this thing where it claims that a ghost story and a love story are really the same thing, but that doesn't work. Because of this, we are left with one or two solid scares per episode, but nothing even close to the level of Hill House.
The Haunting of Bly Manor sometimes forgets that it's even meant to be a horror show. It just seems like a really eerie gothic romance with supernatural elements thrown in every once in a while. Had this not been the "sequel" to The Haunting of Hill House, I'd be okay with that, but if you are following up one of the best horror shows I've ever seen, I'm not okay with that. Hill House blended the family story and the ghost story together perfectly. Bly Manor was not able to blend the love story and the ghost story together, which is really frustrating.
In the first episode, I felt like I was watching a Mike Flanagan product. In the next eight episodes, I did not. Part of that is because he directed the first episode and didn't direct the rest. By comparison, he directed every episode of Hill House. Mike Flanagan is one of my favorite working directors. He just knows how to get horror right. You can feel his presence when directing, and that was a presence I felt was missing in the latter episodes of Bly Manor. It might've even been scarier had he directed every episode.
Final Thoughts and Score
While The Haunting of Bly Manor certainly doesn't reach the insane heights of its predecessor, it still manages to have fantastic characters and a compelling love story injected with just enough Flanagan horror to keep me satisfied.
I will go Sweet here. Age range is 13+.
SWEET N' SOUR SCALE
Sweet (Great) Savory (Good) Sour (Bad)
"The Haunting of Bly Manor"
Fun Factor: 8/10
Created by Mike Flanagan
Rated TV-MA for frightening scenes, language, suggestive material, thematic elements
Released on October 9, 2020
Episode runtime: 50 minutes
Victoria Pedretti as Dani Clayton
Oliver Jackson-Cohen as Peter Quint
Amelia Eve as Jamie Taylor
T'Nia Miller as Hannah Grose
Rahul Kohli as Owen Sharma
Tahirah Sharif as Rebecca Jessel
Amelie Bea Smith as Flora Wingrave
Benjamin Evan Ainsworth as Miles Wingrave
Henry Thomas as Henry Wingrave
Kate Siegel as Viola Lloyd
Carla Gugino as The Storyteller
Alex Essoe as Charlotte Wingrave
Roby Attal as Edmund O'Mara
Matthew Holness as Dominic Wingrave
Katie Parker as Perdita Willoughby
Jim Piddock as Father Stack