Plot: After an au pair’s tragic death, Henry Wingrave hires a young American nanny to care for his orphaned niece and nephew who reside at Bly Manor with the estate’s chef Owen, groundskeeper Jamie and housekeeper, Mrs. Grose. But all is not as it seems at the manor, and centuries of dark secrets of love and loss are waiting to be unearthed in this chilling gothic romance. At Bly Manor, dead doesn’t mean gone.
Review: In 2018, Mike Flanagan garnered critical acclaim for his film GERALD’S GAME and immediately followed it up with the hit series The Haunting of Hill House. Updating the classic Shirley Jackson story, Hill House was a perfect blend of drama and horror. Chock full of easter egg ghosts and featuring an ensemble cast firing on all cylinders, it was one of the top series of the year (and a personal favorite of mine). Since then, Flanagan directed DOCTOR SLEEP and been linked to countless projects but everyone has been waiting to see what his follow-up series to Hill House would be. Featuring many of the same cast (in different roles), The Haunting of Bly Manor is a vastly different tale than Hill House. Still a ghost story, Bly Manor is a reinvention of Henry James‘ The Turn of the Screw that is full of scares and spirits but also a powerful and emotional look at love and loss.
Having seen all nine episodes of The Haunting of Bly Manor, I am confident in saying this is a worthy companion to Hill House. Both are series dripping with atmosphere and talented ensemble casts set in haunted houses that are characters unto themselves. But, as surprised as I was watching Hill House for the first time, I would never spoil what Bly Manor has in store for you. There are twists, several of which you will likely see coming, especially if you are familiar with The Turning of the Screw. But, while characters share names with those in Henry James‘ story, their motivations, backstories, and fates are original to this interpretation. Creator Mike Flanagan has stated that this series draws inspiration from multiple stories by Henry James which makes this a very distinct vision than we have seen in the classic THE INNOCENTS and even this year’s poorly reviewed THE TURNING.
Like Hill House, each episode of Bly Manor features flashbacks and character focus that unravel the core mystery of the narrative with each successive chapter. Without giving anything away, the series begins with a narrator relaying the events of Dani Clayton (Victoria Pedretti) and her time serving as au pair for Miles and Flora Wingrave. At the behest of their Uncle Henry (Henry Thomas), Dani becomes a caretaker to the two orphans alongside cook Owen (Rahul Kohli), housekeeper Hannah Grose (T’Nia Miller), and gardener Jamie (Amelia Eve). it there that Dani learns of the fate of her predecessor, Rebecca Jessel (Tahirah Sharif), and Henry’s employee Peter Quint (Oliver Jackson-Cohen) which is tied to the history of Bly Manor itself. Flashing between time periods, this season is a complex balancing act that plays with time, and the definition of what a ghost is to tell a beautiful story with a nice number of scares mixed in.
The world of Bly Manor is home to various types of spirits, both literally and figuratively. As I finished each episode, what it means to be a ghost in this story carries with it far-reaching ramifications and the perspective of these specters is as vital a component of the story as the living characters. Bly Manor manages to feature ghosts as scary as those in Hill House but others that echo the ones seen in David Lowery’s A GHOST STORY, Jerry Zucker‘s GHOST, and even Flanagan’s own adaptation of Stephen King‘s GERALD’S GAME. The new cast members do an amazing job here while Pedretti, Jackson-Cohen, and Thomas portray characters very differently than their Hill House counterparts. I wish I could say more about the familiar faces in this series but there is a reason the trailers have only shown what they do. If you haven’t watched the trailers, don’t. Trust me, go into this series without spoiling it for yourself.
If this season has any shortcomings, it is that rather than being the single directorial vision of Mike Flanagan, we have a team of filmmakers involved this year. While Flanagan helmed the first episode, the remaining eight chapters were directed by E.L. Katz, Axelle Carolyn, Ciaran Foy, Liam Gavin, and Yolanda Ramke & Ben Howling, the latter three each tackling two episodes apiece. Flanagan oversaw the series as showrunner but a writer’s room of talent helped bring this tale together. It is evident in just how interconnected the tale is that it comes off as a singular vision but one very different than Hill House. Fans can also rest assured that while Hill House featured that instant masterpiece episode shot as a single, long take, Bly Manor also has some tricks in store that will keep the internet abuzz through Halloween.
The Haunting of Bly Manor is going to disappoint some viewers who are expecting a redux of The Haunting of Hill House. This is not scary in the same way but it is just as impactful and memorable. I started out a bit underwhelmed by the tone of the series, but as I gave myself over to the story, the narrative dug in and I found myself glued to the screen. There are just enough moments of sheer terror that will keep you wary of dark corners and quiet moments, but this is not a story about monsters or ghosts in the expected sense. Henry James would be proud of this series and I expect we will be seeing the third entry in The Haunting franchise before long. I just hope it is as distinct from the first two series as Bly Manor is from Hill House. The Haunting of Bly Manor is absolutely a ghost story but will redefine what we consider horror in the best way imaginable.
The Haunting of Bly Manor premieres October 9th on Netflix.