In 2018, we met the Crain family and their frightful, emotional history. Mike Flanagan, the director of both, The Haunting of Hill House and The Haunting of Bly Manor, invented something called “scrying” – screaming and crying at the same time. Next to jump scares, ghosts, and one terrifying bent-neck lady, we also received poignant components that touch upon grief, sleep paralysis, and drug addiction. The feeling of “scrying” multiplies in the case of Bly Manor. This time, however, it solely focuses on the emotional side of its storylines.
The Haunting of Bly Manor was inspired by the work of Henry James and his horror novella entitled The Turn of the Screw. The audience initially meets an unnamed middle-aged woman (Carla Gugino, Spy Kids) who attends a wedding. At some point in the evening, she begins to tell a ghost story. All guests, gathered by the warm and inviting fireplace, intently listen to her soothing voice. Guided by Gugino’s mysterious character, we travel to gloomy England, where the young American, Dani Clayton (Victoria Pedretti, You), accepts the position of an au pair for two orphaned kids, Flora and Miles (Amelie Bea Smith, Benjamin Evan Ainsworth). Their uncle, Henry Wingrave (Henry Thomas, The Haunting of Hill House), directs her to contact him only in the case of emergency. It’s clear that he is not interested in raising his niece and nephew. Both children reside in Bly Manor with the housekeeper, Mrs. Grosse (T’Nia Miller, Sex Education), chef Owen (Rahul Kohli, iZombie), and the groundskeeper, Jamie (Amelia Eve, Enterprise).
From the very beginning, Dani notices the peculiar, odd atmosphere of the Bly mansion and its residents. Hannah drifts off into her thoughts a lot, Miles acts as if he’s at least 30 years old, and Flora often talks to Dani, looking over her shoulder as if something is standing behind her. Dani soon finds out that the children’s truly odd, outright bizarre behavior may be linked to the former governess’ sad fate, Miss Jessel (Tahirah Sharif, A Christmas Prince), and Henry’s greedy employee, Peter Quint (Oliver Jackson-Cohen, The Invisible Man). But the strangest and the most dangerous is yet to come.
At some point during the scenes at the wedding, the young bride says to the narrator: “You said it was a ghost story.” “It isn’t. It’s a love story.” Its description couldn’t be more correct. The show’s premise, heavily inspired by Henry James’ gothic romance, is exactly that. But what makes it unique is a refreshed, contemporary look that, with horror elements, simultaneously charm and scare the viewer, keeping them at the edge of their seat. Previously known as Nellie Crain or Love Quinn, Victoria Pedretti masterfully plays the role of a young American who’s looking for her place on earth. Coincidentally, Dani is also fleeing from her brutal past that threatens to uncover her true self and long-suppressed desires. The governess is a typical girl from the 80s. Her blonde hair is styled; it looks just right. She usually wears high-waisted baby blue jeans. The style of the 80s is very evident in The Haunting of Bly Manor and evokes rather nostalgic feelings. The little girl, Flora, is utterly sweet and extremely well-mannered. The character depicted by Amelie Bea Smith often overuses the phrase “perfectly splendid,” which will make you melt like a butter every single time. Amelie’s performance is the young actress’s first big role, and I certainly hope to see her again.
Even though Dani, Miles, and Flora are gaining the audience’s attention for a while, it is changing fast. The supporting actors don’t let themselves be forgotten. They are an integral part of the plot. Overall-wearing, confident Jamie has a very familiar, warm feeling to her character. The groundskeeper is very open and courageous; she nicknames Dani per “Poppins” and isn’t afraid to speak her mind. Amelia Eve, who plays the role of a gardener, is an outstanding discovery. As a conversant chef, Rahul Kohli completes Bly’s image and the people who truly become an odd family. But who steals the audience’s attention is the actress who plays Mrs. Grosse, T’Nia Miller. The actress, as a mysterious, intelligent, loving housekeeper, is unequivocally astonishing. By her undeniable talent and charisma, the actress creates a character that feels like home. At the same time, she displays mystery, sadness, and longing.
The Haunting of Bly Manor drags at the beginning. There are a few rather ineffective scenes that slow down the course of action. The series holds many plotlines and as many characters. But, opposite to other shows, all of them carry equal significance and value. Right after you think you may lose interest, it grabs you by the wrist and completely floors you. A quite few plot twists will leave the audience with a jaw on the floor and eyes full of threatening tears. Expressly one of them transforms the series into something more. In the end, it paints a refreshing yet surely heartbreaking storyline.
While the first season was heavily focused on exploring grief, The Haunting of Bly Manor also touches upon it. Similarly to its precursor, it also talks about the loss and the fact that blood doesn’t make people a family, but rather love, and devotion does. Nevertheless, it puts significant pressure on the subject of people and their mark left in a world or within their loved ones once they pass. It plays on the fear of never leaving said mark and simply passing like one didn’t even exist.
Flanagan once again didn’t fail his audience. Although the action started slower, he still delivered a heartbreaking, spine-tingling, thought-provoking finale with unexpected twists along the way. The well-refined core story is incredibly refreshing and suitable for contemporary pop culture and society. The director of Doctor Sleep took Henry James’ inventive yet outdated work and transformed it into the narrative that everybody can connect. The audience shouldn’t look for similarities with Hill House. Both seasons offer a different story, different characters, and possess various meanings.
The Haunting of Bly Manor is, as Flora would say, perfectly splendid, even with its stumbles. It’s not a ghost story, but, unambiguously, a terrifying love story. It’s also a tale about grief and mourning that we have for the loved ones that pass. It will be hard not to cry or not to wince. It will leave you with a reflection and dried up tears that will quickly be replaced by the fresh ones. After all, it will all be worth it.
The Haunting of Bly Manor debuts exclusively on Netflix October 9.