Mike Flanagan’s Gothic-Romance ‘The Haunting of Bly Manor’ is an Intoxicating Follow-Up to ‘Hill House’ – Review
Mike Flanagan is no stranger to adapting and reimagining iconic horror literature; previously tackling works by Stephen King and Shirley Jackson. Now, he returns to Netflix to reimagine another celebrated horror tale. This time, he takes inspiration from The Turn of the Screw, the 1898 novella by Henry James.
Flanagan doesn’t just adapt these works, he puts his own unique take and highlights his ability to deliver complexity to these haunted stories. He adds layers of depth and his own vision to each one, reflecting facets of his creative mind meticulously into every detail. 2018’s bone-chilling The Haunting of Hill House proved as much, and now he does it again The Haunting of Bly Manor.
With The Haunting of Bly Manor, Flanagan put his own vision on this story that has been retold many times before, by extending it into a nine-episode. Set in 1980’s England, Dani (Victoria Pedretti), an American, travels to London and is hired to be an au pair for two orphan children by their uncle (Henry Thomas). She moves into the vast halls of Bly Manor to do so, welcomed by chef Owen (Rahul Kohli), gardener Jamie (Amelia Eve) and housekeeper Mrs. Grose (T’Nia Miller). It’s apparent from the start that something is not quite right at Bly. Mrs. Grose doesn’t eat, the children act out, and Dani sees apparitions. Bly Manor sits atop vast land and looks to be a charming country home, but underneath the elegant aesthetic is darkness. Flanagan unravels the manor’s centuries of sinister secrets with great attention to detail and a surprisingly romantic lens.
The Haunting of Bly Manor deals with the weight of grief and loss that continues to linger. Fears, regrets, and guilt hang over the characters, adding layers of depth to each individual in the story. It follows them in the shadows, they see it looming in their reflections. Physically showing the terrors of the brokenness of being, knowing not one person is ever spotless or free from this. They’re all stained with their own unique brand of baggage. They are haunted by their pasts.
There are supernatural beings present within the story, but that’s not as prevalent or rich as the psychological trauma these characters endure. The series really finds its footing nearly halfway through, as we dive into the supporting characters and go deeper with this theme. It’s not really scary, especially if you’re comparing it to its predecessor. There are elements of horror sprinkled throughout, but at its core this is a very different entry for the anthology series, because it incorporates the elements of gothic-romance. Doomed love that casts it’s ache over every hanging moment. Trapping them in the purgatory of their own mind and body, the purgatory of the grand, beautiful mansion.
This season tells the story differently, lifting the thinly layered veil that these characters wear. Structurally, it slowly unfolds around the audience, draping us in their traumas. We travel through memories, sometimes so much so that it is hard to remember exactly what is happening in the present, but what we’re witnessing onscreen is still enthralling. Focusing most of the backstories on monologues and memories is an effective method of telling the stories of this ensemble, dedicating certain moments to further flesh out the richness of the performances and give each actor the ability to truly shine. Notably, Oliver Jackson-Cohen and Tahirah Sharif as the characters Peter Quint and Miss Jessel completely excel in their roles, both being brilliantly casted as two of the many menacing presences of Bly.
However, it’s Pedretti that provides the emotional core of the series, again. Her performance alone is painful, stunning, and hopeful. There is a sweetness to every line, and a tortured strength that showcases Dani’s pure intentions. This performance binds everything together as we make our way through the series and resolve in a satisfying, poignant manner that feels timeless.
The Haunting of Bly Manor is a different experience than The Haunting of Hill House, and it succeeds as a touching gothic-romance. Much more of a thrill than a fright, Flanagan unravels another tragic tale that, although not as tightly wound with its structure as Hill House, is another rich, intoxicating piece of storytelling.