I’ve been a huge fan of Mike Flanagan for a couple of years now. He is a horror-focused filmmaker, who hasn’t yet made a huge misstep. Instead, he has actually made some of the previous decade’s very best horror films. Gerald’s Game was one of the best and biggest film surprises of 2017, and his sequel to The Shining, Doctor Sleep, was phenomenal. On Netflix, he has also been given the chance to create, direct, and shepherd the outstanding horror series The Haunting of Hill House, which was such a runaway success that it became an anthology series. The Haunting of Bly Manor is the next chapter of that great horror anthology series, and, even though it is not as good or memorable as Hill House, Bly Manor is another great entry in Flanagan’s increasingly impressive horror oeuvre.
Mike Flanagan’s The Haunting of Bly Manor is based on the works of Henry James, with the 1898 novella The Turn of the Screw, which has been adapted several times in the past, being the most obvious source of inspiration. The show follows Danielle Clayton (played by Victoria Pedretti), a young American au pair, who, in an attempt to escape her traumatic past, has traveled to England to be the au pair for two children — Flora (played by Amelie Bea Smith) and Miles (played by Benjamin Evan Ainsworth) — of the wealthy Wingrave family at the old Bly Manor. Soon Danielle, as well as Bly Manor’s housekeeper (Hannah, played by T’Nia Miller), cook (Owen, played by Rahul Kohli), and gardener (Jamie, played by Amelia Eve), will find out that the old English country house is haunted.
Bly Manor features many of the same cast members (some of them have even now tried on iffy dialects that are sometimes jarring) from The Haunting of Hill House — in new roles obviously — but not everything is as it previously was. Even though Flanagan directed the entirety of Hill House, he only wrote and directed the first episode of Bly Manor. Although I think Bly Manor is nevertheless a great show, it is pretty clear when you watch the episodes that they were not made entirely by the same creative force. Although there are some very inventive episodes in Bly Manor, none of them are as exciting or impressive as the Hill House episode ‘Two Storms.’ Also, while Hill House consisted of ten episodes, Bly Manor is ‘only’ 9 episodes long.
One thing that I do want to stress is that whereas The Haunting of Hill House was definitely a straight-up horror series with plenty of supernatural elements and creepy moments, The Haunting of Bly Manor is more of a gothic romance than a classic horror show. There are still supernatural elements all over the place, and it still has plenty of scary moments, but it very much is a different genre. Though as you may know, gothic romance stories can still be very scary and effective, with Guillermo del Toro’s underappreciated Crimson Peak being my personal favorite in the genre.
There are really four episodes that I want to highlight before I speak more generally about the series again. I think that the highlight episodes of the series are the two episodes that Liam Gavin directed — episode four, The Way It Came, and episode five, The Altar of the Dead. The reason why I think these episodes worked particularly wonderful is that I believe they were the episodes that made me buy into and become invested in the central relationships in the show. I think Rahul Kohli, who plays Owen, is fantastic in his scenes in The Way It Came, where he almost brought me to tears. In general, I think these two episodes are of paramount importance to the series because they help to crystallize and establish what the series is actually about. I think this series is ultimately about love, loss, and possession (in more ways than one). I think the standout performance in The Altar of the Dead comes from T’Nia Miller (Hannah), whose journey the entire episode is dedicated to.
The next episode that I want to talk about is the penultimate episode in the series, The Romance of Certain Old Clothes. I think this is definitely a polarizing episode due to the fact that it feels like a bit of a detour. The previous had ended on a cliffhanger, and this episode doesn’t really advance the plot, even though it does fill in some narrative gaps. The episode is definitely bold, since it is basically an 18th Century flashback in black-and-white, and I think some viewers will react poorly to its placement in the season. Finally, I want to mention the season finale, but not because I think it is a standout episode. I just want to mention that I think the final shot is absolutely note-perfect.
On the whole, I think The Haunting of Bly Manor is a very strong season of television. I think the reason why one might be a little bit disappointed by it is due to the fact that one may have expected more of a straightforward horror series, which I don’t think it is. The show is sometimes very unsettling, but what I ultimately remember the show for are the central relationships, and the beautiful but heartbreaking ending.
– Review Written by Jeffrey Rex Bertelsen.