The Haunting of Bly Manor is intoxicating! Like sitting around a campfire, or perhaps in an attic, as a child being told a ghost story. Wherever you were, do you remember how your heart would flutter filling your stomach with excitement and… worry? Wanting to listen but knowing that maybe you shouldn’t for the fear of knowing is what we knew, even then, gave life to the monsters lurking in the dark. Waiting in the empty hallways of our homes at night, or in the closets, or maybe dwelling in the uncharted space underneath our bed. But “monsters don’t exist and I’m not a little kid anymore” so– we ingest the tale of Bly and all of its splendor. All of its wonder. All of its mystery. Expecting the worst and witnessing instead something that is just “perfectly splendid”.
After an au pair’s tragic death, an American woman is hired to be a live-in nanny for a pair of exceptional children living with their house keeper at their family’s manor in Bly, a small town in the English countryside. Needing time away from her life, the now nanny is sure she has secured a dream job. However, things are not what they seem at Bly Manor and the secrets that haunt its acres will inevitably find their way to the surface.
Bly Manor is the latest addition into The Haunting series which was created by Mike Flanagan over at Netflix. Flanagan has made a career of making horror films that challenge your preconceptions of the genre. He’s a visionary writer/director that plays by a different set of rules while still respecting its origins. Though his films are highly debated one thing is undeniable: they all have a signature style that is purely his own. It isn’t nearly as in your face as that of someone like Tarantino but it’s there. This odd level of care and romanticism we rarely see in horror and one that adds an element of depth that I find incredibly alluring. Bly is full of so much feeling that some may even be inclined to say that it’s not horror at all, and that’s part of what makes it great.
You know, we’re so quick to criticize content that we feel is bad but often struggle to praise the ones that hit high marks. Trust me, I’m guilty of it too. I wonder if it’s simply because negative emotions can be so overwhelming that we feel we couldn’t possibly be wrong. Now when we like something we question our own analysis. I watched this series twice, something I would NEVER do with one I disliked. I needed a second opinion… from myself.
It isn’t always you get a series that gets better with a second watch. A film, sure, but a full series is such a commitment once, let alone twice. But that’s one of the strengths of Bly. Uncover its secrets– what things lurk just beyond the well manicured facade of truth– and revisit it to see them once again from a different light. Moments that don’t seem particularly noteworthy until you see them again. It’s then you see their significance and in that you see yet another layer to the thoughtful writing.
Taking inspiration from The Turn of the Screw by Henry James, this season of the anthology is eerie and profound. When I went to watch this my wife asked if it was scary. I told her it must be somewhat since Hill House was. At the end we revisited the question: the show is a gothic romance which entails a certain amount of horror but it’s radically different than what we experience in Hill House. Not all that scary but quite creepy at times. If you have an aversion to horror consider giving this a shot. I’d be surprised to hear people unable to get through it, much less dislike it.
Now I’m not saying it’s perfect but there’s just something about that which takes your expectations and delivers a product that exists somewhere in the same universe but is almost out of a different moment in time altogether. A more poetic era. The impressive thing is how every element unifies clearly on screen– assembling the bars that make up this poem. Cinematography and editing work in harmony with the music to carry us through the story seamlessly. There are moments that should be a bit dissorianting but aren’t. The team behind this took advantage of every inch of screen. The sets and shots make it so that even the negative space draws you in and causes you to inspect the shapes in the darkness.
Our performers are also excellent. It’s no wonder why Flanagan brought back Victoria Pedretti and Oliver Jackson Cohen, both of which blew us away in Hill House. Cohen returns here to deliver another powerful performance. I remember what a showstopper Pedretti was in the first season of the anthology. Completely captivating so it only makes sense for the team to want her to lead this second iteration. A truly gifted actor; she somehow disappears into this role causing me to barely recognized her. Everyone was great in this though. T’Nia Miller and Amelia Eve were stunning. Rahul Kohli first comes across as the comedic relief but then delivers depth I was pleasantly surprised to see. I’m really hoping we see more from all of them.
Our child actors, Amelie Bea Smith & Benjamin Evans Ainsworth, were also excellent, delivering beautifully layered performances you don’t always expect from performers their age. I have to admit that Smith was the standout performer of the season. She was a delight every moment she was on the screen, from her mannerisms to her line delivery. Genuinely fun to watch, she manages to steal your heart from her first line and keeps hold of it ’till her last. Also, she undeniably has all the best lines, including the one that’ll be used by everyone for months to come.
Needless to say, this show is an absolute must watch so do yourself a favor and give in to the side that tells you to listen to the ghost story. After all, nervousness and excitement are cut from the same cloth. Enjoy the laughs, the mystery, and the moments that steal your breath.
This is yet another much needed notch under Netflix‘s belt. As the streaming wars intensify and the landscape grows, they will need content to keep themselves above the competition.
The Haunting of Bly Manor releases. On Netflix October 9th.