Review: The Haunting of Bly Manor

Victoria Pedretti in The Haunting of Bly Manor

The Haunting of Bly Manor can be considered horror – a ghost story. More accurately it should be called stories about love, life, death, guilt, sacrifice, and chicanery. It’s streaming on Netflix.

The Haunting of Bly Manor is the second in a series from creator Mike Flanagan, the creator of The Haunting of Hill House. This is an entirely new and different story based mostly on “The Turn of the Screw” by Henry James. Several of the actors who were in The Haunting of Hill House are in this series, but playing different characters.

It’s impossible to talk about this series without revealing spoilers, although I’ll do my best to keep the big surprises a secret. That means I’ll leave out a lot of important plot points.

We’re taken into and out of the story by The Storyteller (Carla Gugino). She is at a wedding. It’s 2007 and we’re in California. Everyone tells a brief story. Then The Storyteller says, “I have a story.” She warns them it’s not brief, but they want to hear it. The language she uses to narrate the story is pure Henry James, literary and lyrical.

It’s 1987. The American Dani (Victoria Pedretti) is planning a wedding with her childhood best friend. She tells him she can’t marry him and why. Upset, he steps out of his car and is killed by an oncoming vehicle. His round glasses light up in the headlights just before he’s hit.

Dani is haunted by the image of the dark man with glowing glasses for the rest of the story. She sees him in mirrors and reflected in water. BOO!

Victoria Pedretti in the Haunting of Bly Manor

She goes to England and applies for a job as a live-in nanny/teacher. The children are orphans. Their uncle Henry (Henry Thomas) interviews and hires her. She moves into Bly Manor.

Victoria Pedretti and Benjamin Evan Ainsworth in The Haunting of Bly Manor

Miles (Benjamin Evan Ainsworth) gets himself expelled from boarding school so he can be home to protect his younger sister Flora (Amelie Bea Smith) from the ghosts who inhabit the place.

Amelie Bea Smith in The Haunting of Bly Manor

The children alternate between being sweet and adorable to suddenly becoming weird and not very nice. We later find out this strange personality disorder relates to a former driver and thief Peter (Oliver Jackson-Cohen) and the former nanny Miss Jessel (Tahirah Sharif). BOO!

The story line involving Peter and Miss Jessel indicates that if you were a creepy slimeball in real life, you’ll be one as a ghost as well. If a slimeball wants you to repeat, “It’s you. It’s me. It’s us,” don’t say it.

Victoria Pedretti and Amelia Eve in The Haunting of Bly Manor

Dani settles in and begins bonding with the other adults who work in the manor. She falls in love with the gardener, Jamie (Amelia Eve). These two begin a years-long love story. They even get married.

Rahul Kohli and T'Nia Miller in The Haunting of Bly Manor

The other two adults in the house are Owen (Rahul Kohli) and Mrs. Grose (T’Nia Miller), the cook and the housekeeper. Owen and Mrs. Grose also have a love story. There’s a reason why they can’t go to Paris like Owen wants. BOO!

So we have three stories of love: the siblings care of each other, the nanny and the gardener, and the cook and the housekeeper.

In episode 8, when we finally find out what is so spooky about the lake, we have another kind of sibling love. The episode is a black and white flashback telling the story of the original inhabitants of Bly Manor, sisters Viola (Kate Siegel) and Perdita (Katie Parker).

There may be ghosts traipsing about and guilty memories popping into people’s heads, but this is really a love story. The message that dead doesn’t mean gone applies to the spooky bits as well as the loving bits. There’s also a strong theme that the past is gone and the future isn’t guaranteed so we must live now.

Victoria Pedretti and Amelia Eve in The Haunting of Bly Manor

I thought the love story between Dani and Jamie was the best part of the series. They had a life after Bly Manor that none of the other survivor managed. They took the moments they had and made the most of them. The others who made it out of Bly Manor forgot the trauma that had occurred there – the memory just faded away like the faces of the ghosts that haunted the place. Dani and Jamie remembered and it made a difference in how the story ended. Spoiler alert: it wasn’t a happy ending.

Dani and Jamie’s part of the story was what made the series watchable to me. It was understandable and beautiful. If you’re wavering about watching because you don’t really enjoy horror, these two bring the goods.

Other than understanding Dani and Jamie, I was often confused by the story. You’d see something in one episode and two or three episodes later you’d finally find out what it was about and how the haunting worked. Now that I know how it ended, a second watching would really be a smart idea. I could make more sense of things like people’s eyes changing color or people who never eat or drink.

The Haunting of Bly Manor wasn’t as spooky and scary as The Haunting of Hill House. But while I was watching it I expected strange creatures to come at me out of the dark beyond the TV. That’s the power of good storytelling.

Women directors were Yolanda Ramke and Axelle Carolyn. Between them they directed only 3 of 9 episodes. The series was dark and atmospheric, but lit well enough that you could see what was happening. I really appreciate that. Most of the photos I used here are outside, at night, and you can see everything. Inside the house it was the same.

Poster for The Haunting of Bly Manor

Have you watched this series? What did you think of it?

All images via Netflix.

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