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Review: ‘The Haunting of Bly Manor’ nails its scares and emotional beats in new series

Haunting of Bly Manor Poster
“The Haunting of Bly Manor” may not top its predecessor, but it comes awfully close. (Netflix)

Be sure to come back on Friday for our spoiler-filled recaps of all nine episodes of “The Haunting of Bly Manor.”

In 2018, Mike Flanagan brought big screen cinematic scares to Netflix with “The Haunting of Hill House.” Now, two years later, his spectacularly spooky show has been transformed into an anthology series, and Flanagan and his core cast are back to reinterpret another chilling story in a new season dubbed “The Haunting of Bly Manor.”

While stars Victoria Pedretti (Nell Crain in “Hill House”), Oliver Jackson-Cohen (Luke Crain) and Henry Thomas (Young Hugh Crain) are all returning as new characters in a new haunted house, “Bly Manor” doesn’t take long to once again have viewers holding their breath. The new season quickly and effectively channels the same, pulse-pounding thrills that first gripped viewers back at “Hill House,” but while the scares are still plentiful, this time around they take a back seat to emotional measures of a tale of love lost.

Billed by Flanagan himself as a love story, “Bly Manor” is a gothic romance inspired by Henry James’s 1898 horror novella “The Turn of the Screw,” as well as a few of his other works. But just because you hear the word romance doesn’t mean to expect sappy dialogue and a happy ending. Instead, gothic romances are filled with mystery, horror, and oftentimes at their core, pain.

“Bly Manor” is no different. It’s a harrowing tale of love and loss, but it’s one worth hearing – and one that will leave you already begging for the next installment in “The Haunting” franchise.

Victoria Pedretti Bly Manor
Victoria Pedretti as Dani Clayton in “The Haunting of Bly Manor.” (Netflix)

Without diving anywhere near spoiler territory, “Bly Manor” tells the story of Dani Clayton (Pedretti), an au pair hired to look after two orphaned children at a sprawling estate in the English countryside. There’s Miles (Benjamin Evan Ainsworth), a young boy whose behavior is oddly formal yet shockingly disturbing, and his younger sister, Flora (Amelie Bea Smith), his bright and cheery polar opposite.

When Dani arrives at Bly Manor, it doesn’t take her long to realize not everything is as it seems. From muddy footprints in the night to the looming presence of the au pair who came before her, there’s just something wrong about the mansion. On top of it all, Dani has her own baggage she’s carrying in the form of a terrifying, ghostly shadow following her every move.

The children and Dani aren’t the only ones here, though. Rounding out the crew at Bly Manor are Owen (Rahul Kohli), the estate’s chef, Ms. Hannah Grose (T’Nia Miller), the housekeeper, and Jamie (Amelia Eve), the gardener.

Amelie Smith Bly Manor
Amelie Smith as Flora in “The Haunting of Bly Manor.” (Netflix)

When it comes to horror, one main difference between the show’s two seasons lies in how it handles its scares. “Bly Manor” perfectly channels that same level of uneasiness that will have viewers on edge during each episode, but rarely does it match the all-out terror that so often accompanied sequences in “Hill House.” While jump scares are typically seen as cheap thrills, Flanagan has proven himself more than capable at executing the perfect surprise frights. There are still a few jump scares this season, but most of the fear here goes deeper, digging into the psychological effects of loss and grief.

At times, “Bly Manor” feels more like a mystery than anything else, laying a breadcrumb trail to help put together the origin of the manor’s evils and what continues to haunt its current residents. Flanagan and Co. methodically place their clues to plant just enough seeds to ensure a handful of theories all exist simultaneously before flipping everything on its head in Episode 5 and slowly filling in all the details in the season’s second half.

Benjamin Evan Ainsworth Bly Manor
Benjamin Evan Ainsworth as Miles in “The Haunting of Bly Manor.” (Netflix)

Where “Bly Manor” succeeds most, though, is in its relationships. After all, it is a love story, so there better be a convincing pair at its core, right? Well, “Bly” delivers with multiple – both romantic and fraternal. Some you’ll root for, others you’ll despise, but there’s no denying that each relationship in the series is crafted with intention and care. As a result, the relationships among characters are dynamic, constantly changing and keeping everyone on their toes.

It’s hard to develop compelling relationships without a stellar cast to bring them to life, and “Bly Manor” certainly has that covered. Once again, Pedretti is the emotional anchor of the show. She wowed audiences as the tormented Nell Crain in “Hill House,” then again a year later in Season 2 of Netflix’s “You,” so it’s no surprise to see her take the lead here. From terror to infatuation, Pedretti is forced to run the full gamut of emotions, and she rises to the challenge time and time again. Her most impressive emotion, however, may be detached – simultaneously conveying so much grief and pain, yet allowing it to have so little impact on her steely exterior.

Alongside Pedretti, Miller stands out while serving as the seemingly all-knowing Ms. Grose, and Eve’s gardener Jamie slowly reveals a surprising warmth underneath her hardened exterior. In true “The Haunting” fashion, Smith and Ainsworth impress as the series’ two star child actors, fully living up to the standard set by the crew of kids in “Hill House.”

“The Haunting of Hill House” set an incredibly high bar for this follow-up to try and top, and while “Bly Manor” may fall short of its predecessor’s full glory, it sure comes close, proving itself a worthy entry in the expanding horror franchise.

Star Rating:

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Be sure to come back on Friday for our spoiler-filled recaps of all nine episodes of “The Haunting of Bly Manor.”

“The Haunting of Bly Manor” releases exclusively on Netflix October 9, 2020.

Zach Goins View All

Zach Goins is a member of the North Carolina Film Critics Association based in Charlotte, N.C. Zach co-founded Inside The Film Room in 2018 and serves as Editor-in-Chief of the website and co-host of the podcast. Zach also serves as a film critic for CLTure.org.

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