Spooky season is officially here. And no, we’re not talking about the upcoming election, which is less than a month away now. It’s October, officially fall, and we have chilly weather. And with all those things coming together, chilling tales about things that go bump in the night also have arrived. While the well for new horror content is a little shallow this year due to the ongoing pandemic, The Haunting of Bly Manor, Mike Flanagan’s follow-up series to The Haunting of Hill House, was able to finish production just before the onset of the pandemic.
Aside from Stranger Things, Hill House is arguably Netflix’s most beloved original by viewers (and some critics, like me), so anticipation for Bly Manor is undoubtedly high. By season’s end, Bly Manor not only lives up to its expectations, but it’s every bit as good as Hill House, while not being a carbon copy of its predecessor, thanks to its richly emotional narrative, Gothic horror elements, and outstanding performances from the cast.
Bly Manor tells the story of a young au pair (Victoria Pedretti) hired by a man (Henry Thomas) to look after his niece and nephew (Amelie Bea Smith and Benjamin Evan Ainsworth) at the Bly estate after they fall into his care. Arriving at the estate, the au pair begins to see apparitions that proceed to haunt the premises and those that work and live on the estate. From the start, some viewers might be a little surprised that Bly Manor is not exactly like Hill House. Sure, some of the same key pieces that made Hill House so good are in Bly Manor as well. From its long-form storytelling format to its ghosts and jump scares to its familiar cast members that were great in Hill House and now are cast in new roles for Bly Manor, it’s easy to see, on paper, at least, that Bly Manor might be presented as the same as Hill House, but in a different haunted mansion across the pond (while Hill House took place in the US, Bly Manor takes place in the UK). But where Hill House dealt with grief and trauma that struck a family, Bly Manor is ultimately a love story wrapped up in a classic ghost story you may have once heard on a camping trip. And unlike Hill House, the story of Bly Manor, told over the course of its nine-episode season, will require more patience from its viewers.
With patience in mind, it should be noted that the jump scares are not as plentiful here as they were in Hill House. This is certainly not a negative thing whatsoever, as the number of scares does not necessarily equate to the level of quality in horror; although, I certainly can see some viewers being disappointed in the lack of scares in this follow-up. But what the show may lack in frights (don’t worry, though, there are still more than enough), it makes up for in character development and the show’s chilling mysteries and creepy setting, which are on par with Hill House. While the first few episodes of Bly Manor are great, they are a bit slower than the back-end episodes of the season. Some viewers might lose patience, but everything early on lays the groundwork for what’s to come when mysteries are unraveled and then all bets are off as the show’s roller coaster story sprints toward the end. What may frustrate some viewers early on could have those same viewers setting aside those thoughts once the credits roll at the end of the final episode. Without spoiling anything, Bly Manor’s payoff is not only rewarding, but also perfect. And like Hill House before, the mysteries of Bly Manor will have viewers replaying the show to know from the start exactly what’s going on after watching it the first time through.
Accompanying the perfectly splendid story of Bly Manor is its equally good cast. From top to bottom, everyone in Bly Manor makes this chilly tale even better. Victoria Pedretti (You), Oliver Jackson-Choen (The Invisible Man), and Henry Thomas (E.T.) return from Hill House as new characters in Bly Manor, and they are as good here as they were in Hill House. But the standout performers of Bly Manor are its new cast members, which include T’Nia Miller as Hannah Grose, Amelie Bea Smith and Benjamin Evan Ainsworth as the two kids at the center of the story, Rahul Kohli as Owen, and Tahirah Sharif as Rebecca Jessel. In fact, I’m certain T’Nia Miller’s career will take off after Bly Manor’s release.
Show creator Mike Flanagan easily could have taken viewers to any other haunted place and delivered a near copy of Hill House with numerous frights from various ghosts with a similar story. But by forging a different path in adapting Henry James’ The Turn of the Screw, Bly Manor is something new and just as wholly satisfying, if not more so, as Hill House. I can’t wait to see where Flanagan and company take us in the third season. But if it’s anything different like Bly Manor was, I can’t wait. The Haunting of Bly Manor is not only the best show I’ve seen this year, but it’s also the best thing I’ve seen in general.
Whether you are a horror fan or just a fan of television in general, when The Haunting of Bly Manor arrives on Netflix this Friday, your attendance isn’t optional–it’s demanded.