Created By: Mike Flanagan
Produced By: Mike Flanagan, Trevor Macy, Darryl Frank, and Justin Falvey
Streaming on Netflix: October 9, 2020
Runtime: 9 Episodes
Studio: Intrepid Pictures/Amblin Television/Paramount Television Studios
Starring: Oliver Jackson-Cohen, Kate Siegel, Tahirah Sharif, Victoria Pedretti, Henry Thomas, Rahul Kohli, Amelia Eve, T’Nia Miller, Amelie Bea Smith, and Benjamin Evan Ainsworth
The Haunting of Bly Manor is another adaptation of Henry James’s, The Turn of the Screw. It follows an unnamed storyteller (Carla Gugino) who shows up at a dinner rehearsal to tell the story about a nanny by the name of Dani Clayton (Pedretti), who was hired to be the new nanny for the Wingrave orphans, Miles and Flora (Ainsworth and Smith), over at Bly Manor. Dani finds out the manor harbors secrets of its own that go beyond its foundation. The episodes take their time to explore the myth behind the house. It’s a slow burn gothic romance with elements of horror making for an emotional payoff, albeit not as tolling as it could have been.
Some might argue Bly Manor is less scary than Hill House, and on the surface, it may be the case, but it still holds the same emotional impact its predecessor had. I, for one, jumped at a few scenes and would argue that it’s just as scary when you dig deep. There is a sense of being creeped out when the Manor is dark and cold at night, but the core of Bly Manor is based around this notion of longing for your loved ones, even after death has taken over. I found Bly Manor rather poetic and haunting, and it doesn’t shy away from the romance that sits between those who are among the dead and those who are alive. However, it didn’t feel quite as ambitious as Hill House (sorry to burst any bubbles, but no episode has long takes). Bly Manor is about exploiting forgotten love, whereas Hill House is about exploiting the tragedy of a broken family, both of which feed off an empty void creating a horrific experience for the characters by having to face their fears instead of running away. The haunt centers around a void where love is absent and all those who die on the grounds have to repeat an endless cycle searching for that very thing they long for, be it for those they love, or for life itself.
Mike Flanagan, and the rest of the creative team, have a unique sensibility, and raw talent, with being able to hone in on these characters and focus on what makes them the most human. How can we relate to these characters that are in the 1980s? What are some arcs that are as relevant as they were then as they are now? How can all these characters be tied to one overarching theme of suffering from loss, and longing for something more? They explore all these different routes throughout the entirety of the show be it through flashbacks, exposition, or just downright surreal sequences of dream hopping, which is an adventurous way in which they can navigate the subconscious of these characters. I often found myself more intrigued by the moments the show jumped around from memory to time, to memory, to time, etc. It offered a bold framework to play with, and structuring the show as a story being told at a rehearsal dinner gives these moments a lot more freedom to explore the characters in a new light.
The point of The Haunting of Bly Manor is not to scare us away. It’s an invitation to take a more cavernous look at ourselves, which without fail will lead us on a long-winded path of suffering, loss, and above all sacrifice. Every single character we see on the screen has their own arc that is often contrasted by a haunted past. The beauty of having all these characters explore the maze-like hallways is they often come across others who have already shared something relatable to losing a loved one. It’s how they have moved on, or learn to move on, that define them. So much of the show focuses on memories stemming from guilt, shame, and a longing to have more in life. Focusing on such elements will only trap and put us in an endless cycle, and that says a lot for the series as a whole.
The writing and acting alone deserve a lot of praise. There are plenty of times where I had to pause, let some of the moments sink in, rewind, and revisit how I felt when characters said their lines in a particular way. One scene, in particular, revolves around a moonflower, and the monologue Amelia Eve gives as her character, Jamie, really packed some punches. The fervent emotion each talent brings to their performance helps highlight just how distinguished and well written their characters are overall. To carry these characters – who are burdened – with vivacious energy takes talent. Bly Manor has the most exemplary cast to tell the story in a way that’s not only memorable, but also bold in its character-driven form.
Although I am still bothered by the lack of having an episode that pushes the story both technically and narratively (unless you want to include “dream hopping”), I understand that this is a new story. There is no reason for such boundaries to even exist in the first place. I keep referencing the episode “Two Storms” from The Haunting of Hill House because that’s an episode that was impressive on all fronts from the cast to the technical side and the structure. It elevated that series into a new direction. The Haunting of Bly Manor doesn’t quite have the same elevation The Haunting of Hill House has in that regard. I mean, after all, the two are not connected in the slightest. So, perhaps there is no reason to try and hold it up on this mantle that The Haunting of Hill House sits on. Even if the creatives wanted to pull something off as ambitious as having five takes in an episode, the question we would have to present to ourselves is, “Would it have had the same emotional impact as the first time?” After reflecting, I can firmly say no, it would not have, which is why it doesn’t exist in this new story in the first place.
The Haunting of Bly Manor is about picking up the broken memories and learning how to move past them. It’s about being able to embrace what we know and to be true to ourselves. It’s about making sacrifices for those we love, even if it means facing dire consequences thereafter. Though it wasn’t as cloying as it could have been, it has the same amount of heart and creative vitalities that its predecessor has. There are plenty of implications throughout that have riveting reveals. The shocks are there, but so are the bittersweet epiphanies offering insight. As stated earlier, Bly Manor isn’t about scaring you and feeding off your fears. The horrors are embedded within ourselves more so than the house itself. If people are looking for a fright-fest-filled season, then they may just be slightly disappointed. If you’re looking for enthralling, character-driven, performances to tell a story about the horrors of loss, love, yearn, and death, then this might be for you.
I give The Haunting of Bly Manor 4/5.