The Haunting of Hill House was a tremendous success for Netflix, both critically and for viewing numbers.
Showrunner Mike Flanagan (Hush, Gerald’s Game) received his reward with a second season, which he chose to make as an anthology series, taking another classic horror novel and telling the story of a very different sort of haunting.
This season adapted the Henry James novella The Turn of the Screw.
Mike Flanagan has proven to be a master of horror on the small screen.
The director has worked on some of Netflix’s best horror movies of the last few years, including Hush, Before I Wake, and Gerald’s Game. He also had success on the big screen with Oculus and Stephen King’s Doctor Sleep.
Now, just in time for Halloween, Netflix has released the second chapter of Flanagan’s “Haunting” anthology series, The Haunting of Bly Manor.
This is similar to The Haunting of Hill House, in that Flanagan took the horror story and then created something new out of it. While that first season kept the idea of the haunted house and the Crane family, he created a tale of two eras, with the family haunted in the past revisited by the horrors as adults.
In The Haunting of Bly Manor, Flanagan did something even different.
This was not a straight adaptation of The Turn of the Screw and was instead a season that adapted several of Henry James’ horror stories, all based around the idea of the haunting in the Bly Manor home. These include The Romance of Certain Old Clothes, Owen Wingrave, and The Jolly Corner.
Victoria Pedretti, who played Nell in The Haunting of Hill House, leads the way this season as Dani Clayton, an American woman applying to be the governess of two children at Bly Manor. She said she felt she couldn’t make a difference when teaching a classroom of 20 children but felt she could make a difference if she were just helping two children.
However, as the first episode showed, Dani is haunted by something from her past, and this shows up in the figure of a man with no eyes staring at her in her reflection from time to time. She brings this haunting to the house with her.
The problem is there is already a haunting in the house too.
While The Haunting of Hill House takes a while to determine if the ghosts are real or not, The Haunting of Bly Manor has no time for games and shows in the first two episodes that the ghosts are real and explains why they are here.
This season is more interested in looking at why the people in this show are haunted and what happened in their pasts to lead them to this point.
The two kids that Dani takes into her care are Flora and Miles. Flora is a cute little girl who seems like the sweetest thing in the world until something bothers her, where she then flips like a switch and becomes very frightening, only to turn sweet again just as quickly. Miles was kicked out of his boarding school, and while he seems very polite and courteous, something is hiding inside him that seems uneasy and scary at times.
While two kids who seem freaky might come across as cheesy in today’s era of horror movies, The Haunting of Bly Manor relays this in a way that seems real and oftentimes scary, while keeping these two kids as sympathetic characters at times as well.
There are also many supporting characters, which is surprising for The Turn of the Screw, and some of them need to be withheld in this review for spoiler reasons.
However, standouts include Henry Thomas as Henry Wingrave, the whiskey-loving uncle of the two kids, who hires Dani; iZombie fan-favorite Rahul Kohli as the cook Owen, who sees Bly as a place where locals can find themselves unable to escape; and T’Nia Miller as Ms. Grose, the caretaker of the Manor.
As with The Haunting of Hill House, one of the second season’s major characters is the house itself. It is large and sprawling and often shows secrets hiding within the walls. Flanagan, and the other directors helping him out this season, take the time to add fabulous details to the backgrounds of scenes that make this a show that rewards great attention.
If Flanagan is good at anything, it is the atmosphere.
However, where The Haunting of Bly Manor falls short is that it is a follow up to the superior The Haunting of Hill House.
The first season was full of twists and turns, and the atmosphere was part of an overall complete, satisfying package. Unlike that season, The Haunting of Bly Manor seems a little more disjointed. The story seems to drag at times and seems a little more bloated at points.
However, that is not to say this is not worth the watch. This won’t scare people like the first season, and there is no standout moment like the Bent-Neck Lady, but the atmosphere and the fantastic acting on display is worth the watch.
The Haunting of Bly Manor will not be remembered as fondly as The Haunting of Hill House, but on its own, it is a solid piece of gothic romance horror.
A woman at a wedding offers up this ghost story to the wedding party, similar to how Frankenstein was presented. At the end of the series, there is a character who explains the story wasn’t a ghost story; it was a love story.
That is a fitting statement.
The Haunting of Bly Manor isn’t a ghost story like The Haunting of Hill House was. Instead, it was a story about shared trauma and grief, of people who have lost things in their lives, and the ghosts are part of the story.
In that setting, The Haunting of Bly Manor is a slow-burn horror story of secrets that are all bubbling under the surface. For its part, this new tale is more satisfying in its conclusion than Hill House, and one that leaves the viewers thinking after the twist reveals in the final episodes throws everything that happened before into a clear view.