TV Review: The Haunting of Bly Manor (Second Opinion)

Read darknite125’s review right here!

Plot: In 1987 disillusioned and wealthy English businessman Henry Wingrave (Henry Thomas) hires American Dani Clayton (Victoria Pedretti) to care for his niece and nephew Flora (Amelie Bee Smith) and Miles (Benjamin Evan Ainesworth). The brother and sister have suffered numerous tragedies over the last few years, including the loss of their parents and their previous au pair Rebecca Jessel (Thairah Sharif). The pair reside at Bly Manor, an expansive mansion in the English countryside where Dani quickly finds friendship among the cook Owen (Rahul Kohli), the maid Hannah (T’Nia Miller), and the gardener Jamie (Amelia Eve). However, Dani carries with her an inescapable past that haunts her, a past that is compounded by the horrible history of Bly Manor itself, and the ghosts that walk its grounds. At Bly Manor, dead doesn’t mean gone.

Review: In 2018 director Mike Flanagan treated fans to a new interpretation of Shirley Jackson’s classic work The Haunting of Hill House. The result was a terrifying and emotionally resonant family drama/horror story about the ghosts that haunt us. Raw, earnest, and well acted, the limited series garnered both critical acclaim and an overwhelming positive response from viewers. Not surprisingly, a second stand alone installment, loosely based on Henry James’ The Turn of the Screw was soon announced. The Haunting of Bly Manor finished up principal photography earlier this year just before the pandemic. So how does this second foray into haunted house territory stack up against its predecessor? Pretty damn well actually.

Flanagan’s Bly comes off very different in terms of tone and execution than Hill House. Whereas Hill House was terrifying from the get go, Bly has a bit of a slow burn quality to it that builds in intensity before being fully unleashed in the last three episodes. The Haunting of Bly Manor tends to be more melancholy and haunting, rather than outright scary. Which is not to say that the series isn’t scary – it is – it’s just more focused on the “haunting” aspect than outright terror. Indeed everyone on this show is haunted in some manner both in their own lives and at Bly. Whether it’s Hannah’s husband who cheated and left her, Owen’s dementia riddled mother, Henry’s regret and alcoholism, or Peter Quint’s (Oliver Jackson-Cohen) abusive past – everyone possesses their own ghosts. This only compounds the REAL ghosts at Bly Manor led by the mysterious Lady in the Lake who walks the grounds of Bly sucking all the departed into her own gravity well.

Unlike Hill House, Flanagan only directed and wrote the first episode, leaving the directing and writing duties to a myriad of other talented helmers. Ciarian Foy’s “The Two Faces, Part One” and Axelle Carolyn’s “The Romance of Certain Old Clothes” are particularly well done. The result is a hodge-podge of talent behind the scenes that makes for a wonderful gumbo of terrifying goodness. Flanagan is a singular horror talent that’s really made a name for himself in recent years so I was somewhat nervous about him taking a backseat on this series. However, like all great leaders he’s able to spot talent when he sees it and the end product speaks for itself.

The series itself is impeccably shot, capturing the eerie English manor in all its majestic creepiness. Bly Manor somehow possesses the feel of Terence Fisher’s The Hound of the Baskervilles combined with Wuthering Heights and a smatter of Upstairs, Downstairs. Of particular note is how much of the feeling of unease permeates the daytime whether it is odd dolls or the forbidden wing where Flora and Miles’ parents used to abide. The combination of The Newton Brothers chilling score with deft editing from Brian Jeremiah Smith and Flanagan himself creates a pervasive sense of dread that never leaves the viewer. CGI is minimal and the little that is present comes off well, particularly the faceless horror of The Lady In the Lake.

Although Pedretti’s Dani is the ostensible lead, all parties involved get their time to shine. I particularly loved Hannah’s arc in “The Altar of the Dead.” Additionally, it was fascinating to see how each character evolves in Bly, especially the ones that come off shallow and reprehensible at first. Jackson-Cohen’s Peter Quint initially comes off as a thieving, abusive wretch that’s easy to despise – until you get more of his backstory. Similarly, Thomas’ Henry Wingrave’s selfishness and alcoholism, which is both irritating and pathetic, morphs into something much more sympathetic once his role in the tragedy of his brother and sister-in-law sees the light of day.

Without question Pedretti’s Dani wins the day as Bly‘s MVP. A nuanced and tender performance far removed from her tragic and equally stupendous role as Nell in The Haunting of Hill House, Pedretti proves once again why she’s a young talent to be reckoned with. Dani is haunted – literally – by the death of her fiance and seeks to escape her past at Bly. Unfortunately (or fortunately depending on your perspective) she’s forced to confront that past at the manor. Dani also serves as the de facto would be savior of Miles and Flora who are experiencing their own oddities that I will not spoil here. I cannot wait to see what Pedretti brings to the table next.

What’s unique about The Haunting of Bly Manor is how much it really isn’t a horror tale at all. Well, to be fair it is – and it isn’t. At its core it is a love story, or rather stories, plural. Bly examines the many different kinds of love inherent to the human condition, including unrequited love, forbidden love, possessive love, romantic love, and familial love. The show demonstrates how love transcends time, space, and even death. Love is eternal and sometimes tragic. Never is this last more clear than in the season finale “The Beast In The Jungle” that had me a blubbering mess and neck deep “in all my feels” as the kids say.

Overall, The Haunting of Bly Manor is a stunning follow-up to The Haunting of Hill House, a true showcase for up and comer Victoria Pedretti, and another horror homerun for storyteller Mike Flanagan.

To quote Flora, it’s all “perfectly splendid.”

My rating System:

0-1 God Awful Blind Yourself With Acid Bad
2 Straight Garbage
3 Bad
4 Sub Par
5 Average
6 Ok
7 Good
8 Very Good
9 Great
10 A Must See

The Haunting of Bly Manor rates: 9/10