The Haunting of Bly Manor is the newest addition to Mike Flanagan’s The Haunting anthology. Fresh off the critical and commercial success of The Haunting of Hill House, fans have eagerly anticipated Flanagan’s follow-up. However, despite being a stand-alone story, some have been quick to compare it to its predecessor. While both revolve around otherworldly stories with a haunted manor as the backdrop for the plot, the similarities virtually end there. Curiously enough, Bly Manor is a love story first and foremost, rife with gothic elements and mystery.
When all is said and done, the burning question remains: can The Haunting of Bly Manor stand on its own merit, or is it barely more than a pale imitation?
A great good story
An established filmmaker in the horror genre, Flanagan’s signature style heavily relies on compelling and heart-wrenching narratives rather than cheap thrills. Admittedly, Bly Manor goes off to a sluggish start—its narrative all over the place, with certain plots leading to dead ends. Although it may leave certain viewers with a sense of lackluster, such irregularities do little to ruin one’s enjoyment of the story. At its heart lies a modest and genuine tale about facing your demons and coming to terms with the imperfections of life.
The astounding cast, consisting of both new and familiar faces, each have a fresh tale to tell, leaving a lasting impression to the audience. As with the story, the chemistry between the characters takes a while to develop but once it does—it’s “perfectly splendid.”
Mixed bag of treats
Victoria Pedretti and T’Nia Miller were spectacular, to say the least. Pedretti carries the show as Dani Clayton, the newcomer who uncovers the secret of the manor. She excels in the subtleties, needing no dialogue to convey emotion. Miller is every bit refined as the housekeeper, Hannah Grose, delivering an aptly discombobulated performance in the chilling fifth episode that ties the whole narrative together.
The Haunting anthology has always had a knack for casting up-and-coming child actors, and this time is no different as Benjamin Evan Ainsworth and Amelie Bea Smith are charismatic and excellent additions to the cast. Playing the two orphaned siblings, Miles and Flora Wingrave, respectively, the two can turn the atmosphere from light to ominous in a matter of seconds—and never miss a beat while they’re at it.
However, the less-than-perfect script leaves much to be desired in terms of characterization. Oliver Jackson-Cohen’s alluring Peter Quint steals the show in the beginning, but loses steam in the end—reduced to a forgettable and oftentimes unintentionally exasperating character. This inconsistency ruins the overall flow of the story, leaving certain scenes or episodes to fall flat after such a strong start.
‘Dead doesn’t mean gone’
Still, Bly Manor has its fair share of spooks and terror. Ghastly figures hiding in the background—a fan favorite feature in Hill House—return once more, acting as crucial pieces to the puzzle that is the manor’s troubled past.
The story may not elicit the same level of terror as its predecessor, but the skillfully constructed set design together with the crisp cinematography will still scratch that horror itch. The intricate use of silence and emptiness creates an unsettling atmosphere that trumps any disfigured or bloody visual. The medley of background scores, ranging from suspenseful intensity to heart-tugging melancholy, only elevates and complements the emotions in each scene.
Finding terror in the mundane to create a frightening yet familiar imagery—it is this authenticity and horror that sets The Haunting anthology apart from the mold.
‘The rest is confetti’
The Haunting of Bly Manor has the misfortune of having to follow the masterpiece that is The Haunting of Hill House. Nevertheless, viewers must not forget that The Haunting of Bly Manor is not an attempt to recreate the success of its predecessor; it pursues something different altogether. In the end, the show manages to land on somewhat solid ground—an uncharted territory that promises more good things from Mike Flanagan.
It is his style and fervor that is the show’s saving grace. Bly Manor may lack any groundbreaking qualities that could cement it as an unforgettable addition to the anthology; despite lacking spark, it makes up for it with tenacity. The determination to stay true to the themes of the story can be seen in the meticulous care that went into the show which warrants a rewatch to truly appreciate such attention to detail. Viewers should expect nothing less than a soul-stirring story—a narrative of love, the burdens of freedom, and the unpredictability of life that just hits close to home.