Netflix’s The Haunting Of Bly Manor comes from Mike Flanagan, the same showrunner behind 2018’s The Haunting Of Hill House. It also features much of the same cast, though with the addition of several worthy newcomers as well. Though it’s technically a follow-up, there are no connections between The Haunting Of Bly Manor and The Haunting Of Hill House.
They’re both loosely adapted from different source material. In the case of The Haunting Of Bly Manor, Flanagan used the 1898 horror novella The Turn Of The Screw by Henry James as the basis, though he updated it with somewhat modern trappings. The question now is whether it’s worth watching, especially for fans of the horror genre.
Not Your Usual Haunted House
There’s a good reason why most iconic horror comes from movies and not TV. The genre is usually best in smaller and more digestible chunks. They often save their biggest scares for the climax or gradually build up tension before exploding into all-out terror. However, that doesn’t work as well on TV as it does in movies.
Horror movies are generally about one and a half hours long, but a TV series stretches that into many more hours (nine hour-long episodes for The Haunting Of Bly Manor). At first, it may seem absurd that a simple haunted house story can be nine or ten hours long, but The Haunting Of Bly Manor proves that it can be done, albeit not without some sacrifices.
The Haunting Of Bly Manor‘s very first episode is already great, capable of capturing our attention and curiosity by introducing viewers to the characters and setting of the series. From the beginning, it already feels like there’s so much more to the plot than just another haunted house with ghosts and ghouls.
After an au pair’s tragic death, Henry Wingrave (Henry Thomas) hires a young American nanny, Dani Clayton (Victoria Pedretti), to care for his orphaned niece Flora (Amelie Bea Smith) and nephew Miles (Benjamin Evan Ainsworth) who reside at Bly Manor with the estate’s chef Owen (Rahul Kohli), groundskeeper Jamie (Amelia Eve) and housekeeper Mrs Grose (T’Nia Miller).
As you can guess, creepy and weird stuff happens as soon as Dani reaches the house, which isn’t surprising. What makes the tale and story in The Haunting Of Bly Manor is that the protagonist and several other characters are haunted by the ghosts of their past and inner demons as much as the literal ghosts of Bly Manor.
The series relies on many flashbacks that flesh out the characters, peeling back the layers and motivations behind their issues. Some of these involve processing survivor’s guilt from the deaths of those closest to them, and how that same guilt can manifest as ghosts that haunt these characters.
Don’t worry, there are both literal ghosts and figurative ones in The Haunting Of Bly Manor, but the focus is ultimately more on the lingering pain and guilt that summons those ghosts in the first place.
As you learn more and more about these characters, discovering buried and hidden secrets, you’ll grow to care about them and realize that at the root of all the gloom and doom, lies a tragic love story and the fear of being forgotten.
Rest assured, I won’t be forgetting about any of the characters. The entire cast delivers incredible performances; even (surprisingly) the kid actors. The highlights include Kohli’s loveable Owen (who brings the laughs and comedic relief with emotional depth), Pedretti’s Dani and Ainsworth’s Miles. It’s rare enough that a child actor could stand out, but this one is noteworthy.
Every flashback also effectively adds to the plot, as every little revelation shines more light on previous events and gives viewers a different perspective on scenes that they’ve already seen. The attention to detail here is remarkable, and it’s a testament to Flanagan’s talent.
That attention to detail can be evident in many scenes where the camera lingers around in a room for a few seconds after the person leaves. I’m sure that, just like the hidden ghosts that were in 2018’s The Haunting Of Hill House, there are many more well-hidden easter eggs and details that are just waiting to be discovered in this one as well.
Not So Scary
That said, amidst all the complex secrets and emotional drama, the biggest problem with The Haunting Of Bly Manor is that it just isn’t scary. I consider myself to be a fan of the horror genre in general, and it’s quite disappointing how tame this series is in terms of spooks and scares.
For a series about a haunted house, seeing the same ghost over and over again isn’t scary, especially when that same ghost didn’t inspire much fear in the first place. It’s also even more frustrating when the series relies on cheap jump scares, especially considering that the chilling atmosphere alone would have sufficed.
The great performances and story of The Haunting Of Bly Manor are actually enough for viewers to warrant it a watch, but if you’re looking for a truly scary and terrifying experience, I’d suggest that you look elsewhere.
Still, I never realized how much I cared for these characters until the very last episode, with a bittersweet ending that made me shed tears. A horror story that tugs at your heartstrings? Why, yes, those do exist, and The Haunting Of Bly Manor is one of them.
In the meantime, you can also check out my interview with The Haunting Of Bly Manor cast members Victoria Pedretti and Henry Thomas here, in which they spill the beans about a lot of topics.
Final Score: 80/100
The Haunting Of Bly Manor is slated to premiere on Netflix on on 9 October 2020.