Year 2018, Haunting of Hill House became a Halloween season hit for Netflix with its generational story about a family plagued by supernatural devices in a haunted mansion. The 10-episode series was so well received that Netflix announced a follow-up project a few months later. Now, The Haunting of Bly Manor will offer yet another modern remake of a classic Gothic horror story.
The Haunting of Bly Manor premieres October 9 on Netflix, and even if it feels like Hill House in how the story unfolds (and even shares several members with its predecessor), Bly Manor still offers lots of powerful scary and narrative twists to keep you guessing as you wrap the story in a new set of themes.
The series’ creator and co-producer Mike Flanagan returns behind the camera for The Haunting of Bly Manor, who follows an American woman who agrees to take care of a British business’s niece and nephew on the family’s farm. Hill House actress Victoria Pedretti portrays Dani Clayton, the young governess whose experience of the family’s seemingly idyllic summer home takes a frightening turn when children begin to act strangely and supernatural entities make their presence known.
Back to the past
Although The Haunting of Bly Manor differs thematically from Hill House, much of the narrative structure and framing of the series will feel familiar to fans of the latter, for better or worse.
Flanagan has an affinity for playing with timelines and using heavy flashbacks to keep audiences unsure of how important events connect in each character’s story and the overall story. The narrative technique was well used in Haunting of Hill House, which generated many of its greatest revelations from the sudden convergence of the characters’ individual narratives. That trend continues Bly Manor, who similarly devotes large spans of his story – in some cases whole episodes – to a character’s story and perspective on the events so far, then takes the narrative detour back to the primary narrative arc for a revealing aha moment.
Falling back on the narrative unit is not necessarily a negative for Bly Manor, as everyone familiar with Flanagan’s past work – in particular Hill House – enters the series with a level of comfort that allows you to spend more time absorbing what is happening on the screen instead of struggling to understand it.
The narrator structure for The Haunting of Bly Manor is not the only element it shares with Hill House, either. One of the aspects of Hill House What gave it a hefty dose of other viewing appeal was Flanagan’s skill at inserting subtle elements into scenes that overshadow upcoming events or simply reward eager-looking viewers. The popularity of Hill House led to countless articles about the unique ghosts that appeared in certain scenes but probably went unnoticed, and Bly Manor continue to test your attention to what is happening in the background of each scene.
These characteristics – along with the presence of several Hill House cast members – do sometimes Bly Manor feels a little too familiar, but fortunately the impressive performances from the cast and some significant thematic differences help to distinguish the new series from its predecessor.
Fear with heart
Pedretti is particularly entertaining as the former schoolteacher who arrives at the mansion with some serious luggage of his own, only to find himself in the middle of a much more ominous ordeal. Her character’s arc oscillates between moments of heartbreaking helplessness and inspiring strength, and she makes both extremes seem equally plausible in her portrayal of a woman struggling to be comfortable in her own skin.
T’Nia Miller and Rahul Kohli also deliver memorable performances as the longtime housekeeper and cook on the farm. Both actors dive deep into their characters and transform roles that could easily have been available in the story into overly human characters you become increasingly invested in as the terrifying story unfolds.
Young actors Benjamin Evan Ainsworth and Amelie Smith appear far beyond their years as siblings Miles and Flora Wingrave and portray their characters with enough nuance to keep the level of mysteries surrounding their experiences high in the series.
Famous performances aside, it is the themes of the story that differ the most Bly Manor from Hill House in the end.
Where Haunting of Hill House used the gothic horror genre to explore how abuse, trauma, and abuse can drive wedges in a family and ripple outward for generations; The Haunting of Bly Manor is basically a story about the power of love and memory to transcend our earthly lives.
Hill House had famous (or perhaps infamous) audiences who alternated between screaming and crying with their surprisingly resonant emotional depth, and Bly Manor achieves a similar feat. The individual love stories at the core of each character’s arc Bly Manor are authentic and powerful, making the whole series feel surprisingly hopeful rather than gloomy. It’s not an easy feeling to draw in a Gothic horror story, and it’s a credit to Flanagan’s vision for the series and its talented role as Bly Manor can beat the tricky tone so well.
Gothic horror has always been about more than just the scare, and with both Haunting of Hill House and The Haunting of Bly Manor, Flanagan has proven to be not only aware of the fact, but also comfortable with all the nuance and potential that the genre offers. In doing so, he also took the writings of Shirley Jackson and Henry James back to the public – another commendable achievement – and offered yet another reminder that the horror genre is truly timeless.
All nine episodes of The Haunting of Bly Manor premieres October 9 on Netflix.