For the spooky season, Netflix offers viewers a chance to return to a realm of phantasms and frights with Mike Flanagan’s The Haunting of Bly Manor, the follow-up to the supernatural hit The Haunting of Hill House. But does the second installment follow in the phantom footsteps of its predecessor?
The short answer: Yes, but with less effective terror and more personal tragedy. One-part ghost story, one-part tearjerker with a bit of mystery thrown in for good measure, Bly Manor shifts the anthology’s focus from ghost story to poignant tale of lost love set within a haunted house. And while the series is still brimming with terrifying imagery, scary specters, and ominous tones, the ache of melancholy and lost love is the real dread.
Dani Clayton (Victoria Pedretti) is an au pair at Bly Manor, in charge of two precocious kids (Benjamin Evan Ainsworth and Amelie Bea Smith) who are more inclined to play dangerous games and chant warnings than to get into the usual munchkin mischief. Haunted by her own demons, Dani finds herself at odds with the restless spirits who wander the hallow halls of the house.
Bly Manor is a slow burn that packs an emotional wallop aimed at patient audiences who enjoy sobbing with scares. Even more so than Hill House did, this tale takes its time with the story, allowing viewers to explore the environment, characters and narrative universe to understand character motivation, even if some might eventually grow weary of the phrase “perfectly splendid.”
While the accents for some of the Yank actors are shaky, the players are top notch, particularly the supporting cast. Despite what gothic tales and Downton Abbey episodes have taught Americans about the upstairs/downstairs dynamics of wealthy Brits, there is no division here, just love, respect, and a healthy dollop of fear when dealing with extraordinary events. The relationships make each chapter all the more heartbreaking when tragedy sets in.
Fans of the first series will have to wipe away tears as they eagerly search for background ghosts as Bly Manor isn’t just haunted by spirits who lurk in the shadows or emerge from the water depths of nearby ponds, but the guilt of past mistakes. The consequences of affairs gone wrong and the tragic circumstances that follow are just as alarming as ghoulish figures who appear in the frame. Though many of the same actors return, they play different characters here, but there’s a similar fascination with how the past affects the future. But what is real and what is regret? Can the spirits be separated from the memories that plague the household?
The Haunting of Bly Manor is an incredibly crafted story fueled by eerie moods and real emotion. Horror fans looking for jump scares and chainsaw maniacs should look elsewhere. But those who appreciate complicated, creepy tales mixed with sorrow will find Bly Manor a welcoming place to live for a while.