Review: 'The Haunting Of Bly Manor' has solid foundation but less scares
Courtesy of Netflix
The calendar has officially shifted to October peeps and with that brings a slew of new spooky content, and Netflix is capitalizing on the lack of content in movie theaters with “The Haunting of Bly Manor” or the second season in “The Haunting of…” anthology series. Creator Mike Flanagan (“Doctor Sleep”) has thrown his name on this next installment, although it’s not nearly as scary or eventful as its predecessor.
“Bly Manor,” based on the 1989 Gothic novella, “Turn of the Screw” is loaded with memorable characters and anchored by strong performances, but the series – over the course of all nine episodes provided in advance to critics – is aggressively fine. In fact, if not for the last two episodes, “Bly Manor” would be a bust. Most of the show plays like dramatic readers theater, complete with an overabundance of narration (something that always irks me) and timelines that are confusing the more you try to understand them.
“Bly Manor” – which Flanagan took the liberty of setting a century later than the novel – takes place in 1980s England, and centers on Dani (Victoria Pedretti, who was Nell in “Hill House”), an ambitious American nanny hired to look after two orphaned children – Flora (Ameile Bea Smith) and Miles (Benjamin Evan Ainsworth). You can sense dread within minutes of Dani’s arrival at Bly Manor: starting with the creepy production design that’s able to give the mansion a mind of its own, complete with an endless array of rooms, nooks, and cranny’s to get lost in. (Side note: Why do characters in every spooky show with a big house think it's a good idea to play hide and seek?)
The siblings Flora and Miles are a peculiar pair, the former uses the phrase “perfectly splendid” any chance she gets, and the latter has compulsive anger issues whose “normal” behavior is all around bizarre. Then you have Bly’s housekeeper, Hannah Grose (T’Nia Miller), often appearing as though she’s in a dream state and never touches her dinner. With these odd batches of characters, Flanagan builds a solid foundation, amplifying the tension and mystery of the manor while gradually exploring the emotional core of the story.
Once we get past the introductions (and trust me, there’s plenty of characters to keep track of) – the lore of “Bly Manor” deepens. There are strange noises in the night, and unseen entities who lurk in the shadows, but this season holds its cards close to the vest. Unlike “Hill House,” where you had the Bent-Neck Lady (among others) – “Bly Manor” is a different kind of saga, which is disappointing considering the strongest aspect of “Hill House” were how the thrills sprinkled throughout the series remained consistent.
It’s obvious that Flanagan is trying to follow the novel as best he can, leaning more into the Gothic undertones of Henry James' vision as opposed to jump scares so prevalent in “Hill House.” Each character’s backstory seems meticulously crafted with artistic integrity in mind, peaking in the final episodes to the point where this critic was getting emotional.
Underneath the lore and horror elements, “Bly Manor” is predominantly a love story, keener with focusing on the complexities and secrets of the characters than shock value, so as to curate an effective narrative. You’ll be shocked at how much conversation takes place throughout the season with the lack of spectacle surprising. But some of those relationships are the most compelling aspects Flanagan unspools. The specifics of which are too spoilery to delve into.
In the end - while “The Haunting of Bly Manor” gets lost in its own convoluted mythology, bounces around timelines so much you could get whiplash, and is basically a soap opera with spooky elements tossed in for good measure, Flanagan certainly has an eye for flare and presentation (one crucial episode is entirely in black and white) - there’s plenty to embrace if you loved “Hill House” This season also lingers well after the closing credits, perhaps signaling that “Bly Manor” is more worthy a sequel than I give it credit for? Either way, ‘tis the season, you might only venture down this path once, but it’s a worthy venture nonetheless.
All episodes of THE HAUNTING OF BLY MANOR drop on Netflix Friday October 9th.