REVIEW: ‘The Haunting of Bly Manor’ is Love and Pain, Like a Good Gothic Romance Should Be

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THE HAUNTING OF BLY MANOR

I can’t do bleak horror right now. You know the kind. The horror stories that hollow you out and don’t take the time to offer you the catharsis you need to feel whole again. Because of 2020, the absence of hope hits harder than other years and that’s why Mike Flannagan’s The Haunting of Bly Manor couldn’t have come at a better time. A Netflix original, The Haunting of Bly Manor is an unconnected follow up to last year’s phenomenal look at trauma and family, The Haunting of Hill House. A part of The Haunting anthology series, Bly Manor serves as an exploration and adaptation of Henry James’ work, but more importantly, it is a look at romance, connection, and how “dead does not mean gone.”

Set in 1980s England, Henry Wingrave (Henry Thomas) hires a young American nanny, Dani (Victoria Pedretti), to care for his orphaned niece and nephew (Amelie Bea Smith, Benjamin Evan Ainsworth) who reside at Bly Manor, after an au pair’s tragic death. Dani joins the other workers, the estate’s chef Owen (Rahul Kohli), groundskeeper Jamie (Amelia Eve), and the live-in housekeeper, Hannah Grose (T’Nia Miller). 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.

Now, it’s important to note that those expecting the same kinds of scares and themes from last season to appear in The Haunting of Bly Manor, you will be disappointed. But, this isn’t a bad thing. In fact, while the directorial style, color palette, and use of background elements shows that this season is connected to The Haunting of Hill House, along with familiar faces, the fact that it aims to pull at different emotional strings is what makes this season strong. Love is through the line of this season, but not familial love that withstands all, oh no. But romantic love of the gothic variety that is selfish, vain, fickle, and above all else tragic. Through carrying romantic connections between characters, Flanagan has mapped multiple short stories into nine episodes that focus on different characters, motivations, and elements of the twisting narrative that has been built around Bly.


In truth, there isn’t much I can explore in this review of The Haunting of Bly Manor that doesn’t spoil some aspect of it. Flanagan has tightly woven the romances, the fears, the trauma, and the grief of his characters that it is impossible to pull them apart. But what I can talk about is how wonderful the series’ cast is. Rahul Kohli is empathetic and endearing. Victoria Pedretti is emotional, loving, and strong in her vulnerability. Benjamin Evan Ainsworth and Amelie Bea Smith are fascinating, chilling, and the true heart of the season. And finally, T’Nia Miller is strong and dynamic.

Sadly there are some minor pacing issues that when coupled with some moments of CGI usage break the immersive quality of the series. Where The Haunting of Hill House thrived in its scares and how they buried into the viewer, this season relies too heavily on making the viewer jump in their seats and not on building substantial tension. This happens because of how frequently mirrors are used and how moments in the foreground lean on typical visual build-ups. That said, there are enough unexpected moments in The Haunting of Bly Manor that will excite reviewers and stick with them once they’re walking alone in the dark.

In fact, the knowledge that Flanagan hides multiple layers of potential ghosts makes it so that every frame that showcases the background causes you to wring your hands and focus on even the most subtle human-shaped objects. Additionally, The Haunting of Bly Manor thrives in the uncanny valley, warping elements of the human face and utilizing dolls that makes every instance deeply unsettling and the innocent use of a dollhouse terrifying.

While the beginning of this article talked about my aversion to the bleaker titles in horror during 2020, The Haunting of Bly Manor does embrace the darkness that comes along with gothic romances. The melancholy atmosphere is pervasive in every scene within Bly Manor and the house breathes in its own way. The set design this season, much like last, turns Bly into a character for us to explore. With large fireplaces, doorways, corridors, and stairs, the characters feel small. In the tenser moments of the series, it feels like Bly is swallowing them whole. That emptiness fuels the narrative, but it also takes on the task of filling it as well. There certainly aren’t any traditionally happy endings in The Haunting of Bly Manor. That said, as Flanagan wraps around to the season finale, he is keen to pull you back up.

The hope, it seems, is found in how characters continue to live past tragedy, how they grow past trauma, and how they can be connected by love more radiant and innocent than the one they’ve lost. In the closing scenes of the season, I couldn’t help but cry. But it was different than Hill House. I wasn’t crying repeatedly by being confronted with my own mental health and trauma. The tears that The Haunting of Bly Manor pulled from me were ones that came from hope. Having lost people close to me this year, and even before, the thought of them staying with me like an echo of something good moved me, even with the tragedy that surrounded each element of the story.

The Haunting of Bly Manor is out exclusively on Netflix October 9. 2020.

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TL;DR

In truth, there isn’t much I can explore in this review of The Haunting of Bly Manor that doesn’t spoil some aspect of it. Flanagan has tightly woven the romances, the fears, the trauma, and the grief of his characters that it is impossible to pull them apart. But what I can talk about is how wonderful the series’ cast is. Rahul Kohli is empathetic and endearing. Victoria Pedretti is emotional, loving, and strong in her vulnerability. Benjamin Evan Ainsworth and Amelie Bea Smith are fascinating, chilling, and the true heart of the season. And finally, T’Nia Miller is strong and dynamic.