TV Review: ‘The Haunting of Bly Manor’

In 2018, the acclaimed horror filmmaker Mike Flanagan created a mini-series for Netflix based off of the literary classic the Haunting of Hill House. It was easily one of the greatest things I have seen on my television. Loosely using the framework of the Shirley Jackson novel, he crafted a compelling and horrifying saga of a family unable to move past their experiences living in a haunted house. Needless to say the second I found out a follow-up had been greenlit I was anxiously awaiting it. This month we finally got Flanagan’s take on the Henry James classic the Turn of the Screw, which for branding reasons was called the Haunting of Bly Manor. Naturally when one’s hype is so high there is plenty of room to fail, so that begs the question if Haunting of Bly Manor was a letdown or another emotionally gripping masterpiece of terror?….I don’t know I even bothered posing the question, it was nothing short of fantastic.

As an American trying to escape her past, Dani Clayton takes a job as the au pair of Miles and Flora, the two orphaned children of Bly Manor. Once there she meets; Hannah Grose the dutiful housekeeper with a secret, Owen a cook caring for his ailing mother, and Jamie a tough but kindhearted gardener. While she gets along well with them, there is something definitely wrong with the two children, as they seem to be under a spell of sorts of something supernatural. Slowly but surely, it comes out that this could be tied to their previous au pair and a criminal conspiracy she was tied up in. Making things all the more terrifying is a spectral woman with ties to Bly Manor’s past who ensures anyone unfortunate enough to get in her path pay for it.

There is a line from one of my favorite plays Haint, which basically states that houses are not haunted people are. Once again, Mike Flanagan shows that the ghosts of a home and the ghosts tied to a person’s past can intermingle for something especially terrifying. This takes things beyond just something lurking in a haunted house as it makes things far more personal for the characters involved. Of course all of these ghosts and spirits who terrorize the residents of Bly Manor are nothing short of nightmare fuel. From a shadowy figure with eyes which seem to glow to a faceless woman who drags unsuspecting people to a grim watery fate there is plenty of specters here to ensure viewers will be reaching for the light switch.

Making the scares of the series all the more powerful is the fact that we actually care about these richly developed and three dimensional characters. Each of them are fully realized with noble qualities as well as flaws. The cast assembled for Haunting of Bly Manor all have plenty of material to dig into in bringing these roles to life. Each actor and actress has a unique chemistry with the others in this ensemble which plays out wonderfully. Hill House players: Victoria Pedretti, Henry Thomas, Kate Siegel, Carla Gugino and Oliver Jackson-Thomas all return for a second round as entirely new characters in an American Horror Story fashion. As a fan of the Room I was also surprised to see a cameo from Greg Sestero. In an all around strong ensemble, T’Nia Miller shines bright as Hannah Grose. Come award season all of the stuffy decision-makers need to throw all of the acting related gold in her direction. As someone who loves seeing equal representation in entertainment the fact that Flanagan puts the lead character Dani in a same-sex relationship and it is treated as something both normal and wonderful will always get a thumbs up from me.

The pacing of the Haunting of Bly Manor does start off on the slower side but in a great way. This allows a subtle sense of dread to linger in the background for the first few episode. That being said once the fourth episode it gets busted open as we learn the true gravity of what is going on. Once you hit that point there is no turning back as the series takes you on a roller coaster ride through various plot lines which all come together in gripping and surprising ways.

In the end we find that the Haunting of Bly Manor for all of its gothic horror and gripping story threads, by the end you learn that it was really an unconventional love story. And it is one which punches you hard right in the emotions. Just as in the predecessor series, Flanagan finds the perfect balance of horror and heart to not only bring the scares but also ensure that the audience is enraptured with the story unfolding. One can only that the Haunting of Bly Manor is successful enough to warrant more of Mike Flanagan’s interpretations on classic horror literature. I would be fantastic to see his talents bring to life works like; Peter Straub’s Ghost Story, Richard Matheson’s Hell House, Susan Hill’s the Woman in Black or any other legendary tale from the realm of gothic terror.