I absolutely loved Haunting of Hill House when it was released on Netflix last year. I wanted a second season but knew it was not possible because the story had a very satisfying ending. But I got to take my cake and eat it too, like The haunting was later announced as an anthology series, with The Haunting of Bly Manor as the second season. Bly Manor was released last week and I̵7;ve had a chance to see it all now.
To begin with, this is not your “typical” fear (if such a thing even existed in the first place). It’s subtle horror, with what’s happening in the background often much more frightening than what’s right in front of you. It’s my favorite kind of horror (yes, almost), because it feels more realistic than many scary-for-the-sake-for-scary horror girls.
Bly Manor is also multifaceted horror because it is almost a horror story inside a horror story inside a horror story. Inside a haunted house. A lot is happening here, and you really have to be careful about everything that happens. When I understood many of the key plot points, I actually wanted to see it a second time to capture the little things I missed the first time.
It starts slowly but hits a high note around episode 4
The story begins with a rehearsal dinner for a wedding. It is unclear who is getting married (at least to begin with), but it is obvious that there is some history between a couple of characters in the wedding party. It starts with a speech, then turns into drinks and stories among people, when a woman speaks and says that she “has a story” but quickly realizes that it is not her story.
The specific bit can not be overlooked, because it sets the tone for Bly Manor directly out of the gate. From that point on, this woman is the narrator of the story, and there is a moment every episode or two to remind you of that with some voice. Save for a story-driven episode, the story tells itself.
There are only nine episodes during the season, and you will spend the first couple getting a feel for the characters in Bly Manor. It’s Bly’s inherited owner, Henry Wingrave; the housekeeper, Hannah Grose; cooks, Owen; the gardener, Jamie; Henry’s niece and nephew, Miles and Flora; and the American au pair that the story revolves around, Dani Clayton. Dani is, in all respects, the show’s main character. Although these are the primary characters, backstory characters such as Peter Quint and Rebecca Jessel are equally important to the overall story.
Each character is nuanced and complex, so you also need to find out what is really going on with each of them. It was found early on that Dani is running from something, but you have to look at several episodes to find out what that thing is. It is also clear from the beginning that something is wrong with the mansion, but it is unclear what it really is. If you watched Hill Househowever, check your expectations at the door – this is a completely different type of haunted.
The first handful of episodes create precedents for the show and then take a turn around episode four where you start to get some history. Various backstories continue through the next handful of episodes – including the expected backstory of The Lady of the Lake in episode eight – before everything comes to a conclusion in episode nine. The weaving of current history with backstory can sometimes be a little difficult to follow (look at you, episode five), but it becomes clearer as you approach the finale.
It’s a story about fear, but it’s also about love
One of the biggest complaints I’ve heard of Bly Manor at release was that it is not as scary as Hill House. It’s true to a point, especially when you get closer to the finale – it becomes less a story about ghosts and haunts and more a story about people, relationships, emotions and even love.
But that’s a big part of what it does Bly Manor special. Each character has a brokenness about them, which becomes a bond between them (even if they do not realize it). They are all very different people with very different stories, but the common thread that binds them all is pain. They ache due to loss in one form or another, but they find comfort in each other.
And the story of pain is not only true for the living characters in the story, but also the dead. I’m not one to offer spoilers so I will not go into detail there, but the story throughout is heartfelt and genuine in a way that you do not often find in most horror.
It is worth watching but is not without its own problems
I really appreciated The Haunting of Bly Manor, but as with most programs or movies, if you think about it long enough, you will find little oddities all the time that do not add up.
When you get lost in each episode, you will almost forget that it is a story that is told at a gathering, except for occasional voice stories from the narrator. But there are certain parts of the story that you have to wonder how the narrator first knew – things that were apparently only known by one or two characters. There are also other details all the time that do not really add up, but I will not mention these to avoid spoilers.
This type of moment creates small holes in the overall story being told, but hey – nothing is perfect. I did not think they shook enough to break the overall flow of the story that was told or the beauty that was kept within Bly Manor’s haunted walls.
Nuanced or not, Bly Manor is an excellent watch that I wholeheartedly recommend not only for horror fans, but anyone who loves a good story and can handle only a small amount of horror.