Em O’Connell reviews the follow up series to the critically lauded The Haunting of Hill House
Horror fans had been eagerly awaiting the follow up to Mike Flannigan’s hugely successful Netflix retelling of Shirley Jackson’s classic novel, The Haunting of Hill House. Upon its release, however, many seem to feel that the companion, The Haunting of Bly Manor, did not live up to expectations. Flannigan took a drastically different approach that has led to many claiming that the slow pace, few jump scares and heavy focus on characters and their relationships creates more of a drama, calling Bly’s legitimacy as part of the horror genre into question. While these claims are not untrue, the plot developments come slowly and without much clarity until the final episodes, the jump scares are few and far between and there is a surprising amount of love to be found at the heart of the story. Bly remains undoubtedly a work of horror, and an effective one at that.
The story, which takes its essence from Henry James’s The Turn of the Screw, follows Dani (Victoria Pedretti), an American teacher, as she moves to England and takes on a tutoring job at Bly Manor in an attempt to escape her own haunted past. The Manor plays host to an array of intriguing characters that over the course of the show reveal a great deal of depth. The housekeeper, Hannah Grosse (T'Nia Miller), deserves a particular mention as she steals most of the scenes she’s in with her striking presence and unsettling level of poise.
Despite her warm welcome, Dani quickly realises that something lies beneath the surface at Bly. The children Flora (Amelie Smith) and Miles (Benjamin Evan Ainsworth) seem constantly distracted, and the death of their previous tutor hangs over the grounds. As more and more is revealed about Dani, her companions, and the house itself, the more the audience begins to uncover the true horror of the story.
Through its characters and their interactions with the supernatural, Bly explores the darker aspects of the human psyche. From the toxic relationship that ultimately destroys the previous au pair Rebecca Jessel (Tahirah Sharif), to the guilt and grief that Dani can’t let go of, and the deep self-hatred that manifests itself at night in the children’s uncle Henry (Henry Thomas). Most of the tension over the show comes from the characters dwindling mental states, one of the most unexpectedly unsettling scenes occurring in episode five when we see Owen (Rahul Kohli) the previously caring and loving cook take on a darker role as Hannah spirals out of control.
Though there have been complaints about the plot taking too long to reveal itself and not weaving together as easily as some would have liked, the story does ultimately conclude in a satisfying manner. Just as the tension begins to dissipate and it seems there will never be any answers, the full story is revealed in the penultimate episode, and it is nothing short of devastating. If the gothic setting of the manor was not enough beforehand, Flannigan uses this episode as an homage to the subgenre. Complete with a 17th century setting, romance, betrayal, and murder, this episode serves as a nod to both the time and the way in which James himself wrote horror.
With Bly Manor, Flannigan has successfully managed to draw on some of the more forgotten aspects of horror. Focusing on the existential and asking what it really means to be human, he has managed to portray many people’s biggest fears. Though there wasn’t a major presence of supernatural creatures or scenes of extreme gore, exploring such themes as memory decay, loss and loneliness gave Bly the elements of psychological horror that it needed to be truly terrifying.