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'The Haunting of Bly Manor' Review: A perfectly splendid showcase of terror, love and loss

Be ready to cry.

Dani, Hannah, Miles, Flora and Owen all sit down for a meal in 'The Haunting of Bly Manor.'
(Image: © Netflix)

Our Verdict

'The Haunting of Bly Manor' is a worthy and completely different follow up to 'The Haunting of Hill House.'

For

  • 👨‍👩‍👧‍👦A new story that packs an equal emotional punch to its predecessor.
  • 👨‍👩‍👧‍👦Appropriately terrifying.
  • 👨‍👩‍👧‍👦The kind of complex narrative you've come to expect from the series.
  • 👨‍👩‍👧‍👦Every episode is visually beautiful.

Against

  • 👨‍👩‍👧‍👦The first several episodes may be a bit slow for some.
  • 👨‍👩‍👧‍👦Exposition is largely relegated to one episode. It works, but might turn some folks off.

The Haunting of Bly Manor has some tough shoes to fill. Whether comparisons to The Haunting of Hill House – with the second season featuring a brand-new story with completely different characters - are fair to the series or not, there’s simply no way to avoid them with viewers. With that inevitability acknowledged, Bly does quite admirably on its own when it comes to an emotional gut-punch worthy of its predecessor.

This season the story follows Dani Clayton (Victoria Pedretti), a young teacher from America looking to start a new life in England. She goes to Lord Henry Wingrave (Henry Thomas) to interview for the position of au pair for his orphaned niece and nephew. Wingrave begrudgingly gives the job to the shrewd American with the mutual acknowledgement that she’s running and he’s hiding something. Neither of their secrets are revealed immediately, of course. This is a Mike Flanagan joint after all.

We’ve known from pretty early on in production that The Haunting of Bly Manor was going to adapt Henry James’ “The Turn of the Screw.” The first several episodes are pretty true to the novel, which will work for about half of the series’ viewers. Others may find the beginning of the season a bit slow (I found myself somewhere in the middle of those two parties), but Bly’s ladder episodes prove themselves to be worth the wait.

As the days at Bly pass, Dani begins to notice some strange behavior in the children in her charge. Flora (Amelie Bea Smith) is a precocious young thing. She’s a maker of dolls and lover of all things perfectly splendid. Miles (Benjamin Evan Ainsworth) fancies himself Flora’s protector. No act is too obscene to ensure his little sister’s safety. Before long, Flora’s acting distant and Miles is, well… he’s creepy. He flirts, not in the “cute” ten-year-old kind of way, but in the “guy you’d do your best to get away from in the bar” manner. The housekeeper, Hannah (T’Nia Miller) has started noticing some strangeness around the manor as well. What she begins to see is best saved for your first watch, but it is worth noting that it’s all a clever hint to what exactly is unfolding in the mysterious place they call home.

To add to the stress of whatever in the world is going on with the children, the nefarious Peter Quinn (Oliver Jackson-Cohen) keeps showing his face around the manor. It’s quite the brazen act, given his employment with Lord Wingrave ended with charges pressed and his disappearance led to the death of the previous governess, Rebecca Jessel (Tahirah Sharif). Despite his niece and nephew now being threatened by Quinn, Henry Wingrave remains impossible to get on the phone

Though it doesn’t appear to at first glance, The Haunting of Bly Manor keeps up with its predecessor in small details that one may not notice at first but most certainly matter to the overall narrative. This is compounded by the way the second addition to Flanagan’s impressive horror anthology series handles its exposition. At first, I found myself against this new method – and no, I can’t tell you what it is – but given some time to sit with the series, I warmed to the change. While The Haunting of Hill House’s incremental reveals are still the preference, Bly’s delivery method isn’t without its merits when all is said and done.

The slow start to the season and the exposition delivery method may make it appear that The Haunting of Bly Manor doesn’t bring anything worthwhile to the table until the second half of its season, but nothing could be farther from the truth. The series may not make us fall in love with Dani, Hannah, gardener Jamie (Amelia Eve), or chef Owen (Rahul Kohli) in the same way The Haunting of Hill House made us fall in love with the Crain family, but it makes us fall in love with them all the same. Those earlier, smaller moments are integral to that love. In turn, that love is critical to the pain and the horrors it will deliver before the final credits roll

As is his custom, Flanagan spends a lot of the season focusing on grief and loss, and the horrors that can come along with them. Even better, it homes in on the different kinds of loss. Romantic, familial, and platonic loss all come into play, but so does the idea of losing who you thought you were supposed to be, or what your life was supposed to look like. It explores the idea of being trapped in your own expectations, as well as how easily the devastation of others can affect other people.

That devastation is wrapped up in utterly stunning visuals. There's not a single episode in The Haunting of Bly Manor that isn't a complete treat to look at. Part of that comes from location, Bly itself is a gorgeous mansion with impeccable grounds (thanks to the house's cute gardener, of course), but the rest comes from great cinematography that's used to capture the enchanting and gruesome scenes that will play out in the season.

Horror is a deeply empathetic genre. The terrors that we feel, we feel because we empathize with the characters on screen. We feel with them. Their wins are our wins. Their losses the same. No series has delivered in that in the way that The Haunting anthology has in its two seasons. It must have been difficult to develop a completely new kind of horror and pain for the viewer, one that will complement its predecessor but teach the viewer a whole new way to be afraid. The Haunting of Bly Manor delivers just that in a beautiful, devastating, terrifying way.

The Haunting of Bly Manor releases on Netflix on October 9th, 2020.