Netflix had a massive hit when they released The Haunting of Hill House in 2018. It was terrifying, suspenseful, and heartfelt. For a while, it was one of the most must-see series on the streaming service. Because of this, fans were extremely excited for The Haunting of Bly Manor, the next series in this ghost story anthology directed by Mike Flanagan for Netflix. Bly Manor may be an intriguing and creepy watch, but does it hold a candle to its predecessor? Let’s investigate further into this creepy romance miniseries to find out.
Just like the first series, The Haunting of Bly Manor starts off with an underlying mystery of “What the heck is happening at this house?” It quickly sets up an incredibly eerie tone that, for the most part, stays throughout the show’s nine episodes. It’s easy for the viewer to feel concerned that something horrific could happen at any given moment. There are ghosts, creepy dolls, mysterious footprints, and all kinds of unsettling imagery.
Also similar to Hill House, there are hidden ghosts that can be found haunting in the background. Catching a glimpse of these secretive specters definitely adds to the show’s scariness, as it’s concerning what they’re doing there and what they may have planned for our characters. Plus, it makes one anxious when not watching the series, as if wondering if there’s someone lurking in the shadows in their own home. There is much less focus on the hidden ghosts as the season reaches past the halfway mark because the pandemic affected their post production, but that’s understandable. More interestingly with the ghosts in Bly Manor is that we even get a bit of a backstory as to who each of them were when they were alive.
One of the creepiest things in the series is a dollhouse in Flora’s bedroom. Not only are there dolls of each of the characters, but there are dolls of each of the ghosts as well. On top of that, these dolls are especially unsettling-looking and they mysteriously make their way to different locations in the dollhouse seemingly on their own.
Many of the actors from Hill House return, and many new faces join the cast. The performances from everyone involved, including Henry Thomas, Victoria Pedretti, Rahul Kholi, Amelia Eve, and others, are incredible. Whether they’re frightened, sorrow, or in love, they each give outstanding, yet realistic and subtle performances. It wouldn’t be too much of a surprise if any of them received awards for their talent.
Even though the series is a ghost story, it’s also a heartfelt love story. The love story aspect may not receive the focus that many fans would like, but it’s well done when it does happen. The main love story between Dani and Jamie is relatable as it showcases both of their character development arcs well, and their relationship is absolutely worth fighting for. It’s also not hard to truly feel for Owen and Hannah, or Henry and the children he cares for.
Without revealing spoilers, the end of the miniseries wraps the story up nicely in the most bittersweet of ways. There aren’t many questions left to be had, and the audience gets the chance to see what happens with each of the main characters after the events at Bly Manor. It’s overall a very satisfying conclusion.
The biggest issue with The Haunting of Bly Manor is that it’s incredibly unfocused. The story jumps around between subplots so much that it forgets to showcase its ghostly mystery or the main plot at times. Several of the episodes focus entirely on telling different individual characters’ backstories using flashbacks instead of showing anything that is happening in the current story. That’s not inherently a bad thing, but where the series is only nine episodes long, that means only about half of it is actually telling the actual story while the other half is just backwards explanation. There just isn’t enough episodes to show us every characters’ stories while also focusing on a current day ghost story. Everything is crammed together without enough time to feel organic, and it jumps around so much it’s easy to lose focus on or forget about any of the many storylines.
A minor frustration in Bly Manor is that most of the characters, including the protagonist, don’t know that there is anything paranormal happening until the final few episodes. They’re living their lives and dealing with their personal dramas, but don’t know the mansion they’re in is haunted for such a long time. Seeing how characters deal with the supernatural is part of the fun of ghost stories, and we don’t really see that until the show is almost over.
Because the story jumps around so much and forgets to focus on its main story, one of the biggest issues with the story is the last minute explanation in the final episodes. It feels abrupt as there’s very little set up for this explanation. When this explanation happens, it feels like it was meant to be a huge reveal, but it doesn’t mean anything to the viewer since it mostly involves characters we haven’t even met. It makes it feel like the origin behind the evil in the house is just an afterthought.
The Haunting of Bly Manor may capture a perfectly eerie atmosphere and provide some genuinely good frights, but it doesn’t even come close to the scariness of its predecessor. In Hill House, there seemed to constantly be different ghosts hunting for the characters or the house’s evil controlling their lives. In Bly Manor, there’s only one or two ghosts that do anything, and it’s not a whole lot. The characters don’t always feel like they are in danger, and there isn’t much of a reason to fear for them for most of the story.
Two of the main characters are children, and they’re clearly meant to be the heart of the show. However, they come across more like annoying little brats that are difficult to care about at times. We see flashbacks of the little boy, Miles, at school, and he’s a misbehaved punk. The little girl, Flora, knows a lot of vital information that would be helpful to the other characters but never says anything for no reason other than she’s just a silly little girl. They’re also both incredibly mean to Dani for no real reason. There’s a bit of an explanation toward the end of the series that does explain certain actions, but it doesn’t quite make up for some of their other annoying or cruel behavior.
There are a lot of suspenseful, scary, or even heartwarming scenes throughout The Haunting of Bly Manor. However, in between those entertaining scenes are quite a lot of dry and dull scenes, many of which feel like they have nothing of importance going on. It can certainly feel like a bit of a snooze-fest at times.
In the Know
The Haunting of Bly Manner is the second miniseries in Netflix’s “Haunting” anthology. Given the popularity of both, it’s likely there will be more “Haunting” series to come adapted from different ghost stories from literature. However, there is no current news about a third series, most likely due to the fact that director Mike Flanagan is working on another project for Netflix in the meantime.
The Haunting of Bly Manor is based on a novella by Henry James titled The Turn of the Screw, which was released in 1898. The TV adaptation seems to match the plot of the book with its main plot, but added several subplots for a new spin on things.
Even though the pandemic affected their post production, preventing them from hiding too many ghosts in the background of the later episodes, there are TONS throughout the first few. There’s likely a ghost hidden in almost any shot. It’s like a scary game of Where’s Waldo?. How many spooky specters can you spot?
The Haunting of Bly Manor may be extremely dull at times and the storytelling formula may be unfocused and not so great for the story they’re trying to tell, but it is still definitely worth the watch for its unsettling atmosphere, a few decent scares, stellar acting performances, the heartfelt moments between characters and a truly satisfying and emotional ending. It’s definitely not as strong as The Haunting of Hill House, but it does stand on its own as an entertaining enough binge-watch.
Rating: 6.5 / 10