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The Haunting of Bly Manor (Netflix)

THE HAUNTING OF BLY MANOR (2020) review

Neil reviews Netflix's latest entry in the HAUNTING OF anthology series. THE HAUNTING OF BLY MANOR debuts on October 9, 2020.

Synopsis

From The Haunting of Hill House creator Mike Flanagan and producer Trevor Macy comes The Haunting of Bly Manor, the next highly anticipated chapter of The Haunting anthology series, set in 1980s England. After an au pair’s tragic death, Henry Wingrave (Henry Thomas) hires a young American nanny (Victoria Pedretti) to care for his orphaned niece and nephew (Amelie Bea Smith, Benjamin Evan Ainsworth) who reside at Bly Manor with the estate’s chef Owen (Rahul Kohli), groundskeeper Jamie (Amelia Eve) and housekeeper, Mrs. Grose (T’Nia Miller). But all is not as it seems at the manor, and centuries of dark secrets of love and loss are waiting to be unearthed in this chilling gothic romance. At Bly Manor, dead doesn’t mean gone.

Review

The Haunting of Bly Manor provides Netflix with an exciting opportunity to craft a supernatural anthology series to compete with the likes of American Horror Story.

Given the huge success of The Haunting of Hill House – 93% fresh on Rotten Tomatoes – it would have been a decision as fiendish as Oliver Jackson-Cohen’s Quint not to continue to mine the rich world of horror literature for more.

This time around it’s Henry James The Turn of the Screw which becomes the point of inspiration for the story. Executive producer Mike Flanagan (Doctor Sleep), writer Henry James and director Ciarán Foy have crafted a faithful adaption of James’ novella which breathes new life in to its characters.

The world of Bly Manor is bathed in a darkly gothic 80s hue. The fashions, the hairstyles and the sensibilities of the decade enhance the overall aesthetic of the show to stand it in stark contrast to The Haunting of Hill House.

Returning from the first season are Victoria Pedretti, who flips the script from poe-faced daughter to play the virtuous nanny, Jackson-Cohen who chews up the scenery in a villainous role, Henry Thomas and Flanagan’s wife, Kate Siegel.

Joining them this time around are the wonderful T’Nia Miller (Years And Years) as housekeeper Mrs. Grose, Tahirah Sharif as au pair Ms. Jessel, Amelia Eve as Bly Manor gardener Jamie and Benjamin Evan Ainsworth and Amelie Bea Smith as children Miles and Flora.

Much of the narrative hangs on the performances of the series young actors. The nine episodes season calls on both to perform some difficult and challenging scenes are they walk the tightrope between the living and the dead.

There’s an air of exaggerated “Posh-British” accents amongst some of the inhabitants of Bly Manor. It has that 80s American drama attempting to recreate British culture to it.

There were times I couldn’t work out if the show was produced in the UK or not. IMDb tells me the show filmed in Vancouver which would certainly fit with the faux British aesthetic. I’m not sure its purposeful but this odd mix of cultural stereotypes feels like a genuine 80s drama and actually adds to the appeal of the piece overall.

As with its characters, The Haunting of Bly Manor features a story which pays serious homage to the original text. Flanagan is carving himself a wonderful niche for creating honourable adaptions of some well respected texts and I appreciate everything he’s done to bring this story to the screen.

That being said this series does have a habit of signposting future plot twists. At times these signposts aren’t obvious, there are some recurring motifs which really don’t explain themselves until way past the half-way mark. But in other cases major moments are spoiled earlier in the season thanks to moments which linger just a little too long.

The season is bookended with what turns out to be a hugely sentimental and romantic notion of storytelling. Its completely unexpected and is summed up best when two characters discuss the nature of the story saying “I think you set it up wrong just in the beginning. You said it was a ghost story, it isn’t. It’s a love story.”

This moment and the context which surrounds it stand in stark contrast to much of the rest of the season. But sum it up perfectly. Though there are plenty of ghosts and other twists, at its core The Haunting of Bly Manor is a story about dealing with our own inner demons.

Each of the characters is faced with personal hurdles to overcome. Some of those subplots feel very contemporary to a story set in the 1980s. In that respect The Haunting of Bly Manor is very forward thinking. Others remain rooted in the original text. Together they craft a story which does feel unique certainly kept me gripped, even when it was very slow burning.

Ultimately I think The Haunting of Bly Manor will disappoint horror fans looking for jump scares. This is a more personal and nuanced story. Bly Manor is a warmer, more nurturing environment which just happens to suffer a sad fate.

But look underneath the hood and there’s a lot to love here. If The Haunting anthology is able to continue and tell more stories then Bly Manor stands as an example that it can tell a diverse range of stories.

Verdict

A slow burner with a strong emotional core and great characters albeit lacking in some of the creepy moments which made season one stand out.

6/10

Producing partners Flanagan and Macy drew from the iconic supernatural stories of Henry James, to create the ensemble drama which also stars Oliver Jackson-Cohen, Kate Siegel, and Tahirah Sharif. The series is executive produced by Flanagan and Macy for Intrepid Pictures, along with Darryl Frank and Justin Falvey for Amblin Television.


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