The first season of Mike Flanagan’s Haunting of anthology series, The Haunting of Hill House showed us that ghosts are real but they are linked to the living in unexpected ways, namely family guilt and trauma. The Haunting of Bly Manor explores the supernatural and its relationship with another very natural human emotion; love. Once again we are brought into a tense and mysterious story with surprisingly relatable and flawed characters, for the horror genre, and that just makes the horror itself so much more heightened. Bly Manor is not as scary as its first season but it does make up for it in genuine mystery and strong character work.
Based loosely off the 1898 Henry James novella The Turn of the Screw, as well as other short stories written by Henry James. We are presented with the tale of a young American au pair, Dani Klayton (played by Victoria Pedretti returning from the first season as well as Netflix’s You) as she is hired to care for two children in the English countryside at Bly Manor. Nothing at the manor is as it seems as we learn more about the people who live in it and those who look after it, both in the past and the present. Emotion and the themes of love and death are at the forefront this season, more than the scares a lot of the time it seems but it is a well thought out mystery. Because of this if you’re more of a beginner to the horror genre but still want to watch something that packs a punch with the occasional jump Bly Manor is a good place to start, unlike the first season which definitely had some leave the lights on moments in it.
As this is an anthology series much of the first season’s cast returns here as different characters which is bold as most of the characters in Bly Manor are English, unlike the Crain family from the first season. Returning along with Pedretti is Henry Thomas as Henry Wingrave, the children’s alcoholic and seemingly uncaring Uncle, and Oliver Jackson-Cohen as Peter Quint, Mr. Wingraves dashing assistant. Thomas seems to bring both fun and a studied hand at his very British performance and handled the accent much better than I had predicted. Funny enough of the original cast Jackson-Cohen is the only one actually of English heritage and yet he plays a Scot in Bly Manor. He does this with ease and comes off equally charming and conniving. The real performance standouts are actually from the series newcomers, however. Tahirah Sharif, T’nia Miller, Rahul Kholi and Amelia Eve are excellent as the other members that make up the Bly staff. All of their characters change from a state of complacency at the manor to both fear and passion in their reactions to the events that take place and it made me believe I would most likely react in the same way as them.
While Mike Flanagan returns to produce, he only directs and writes the first episode of this season and it does show but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Flanagan has chosen a different director for almost every episode, the only director with two episodes is Ciaran Foy. What could have been a struggle for style ends up flowing much better than expected with only subtle changes between them. While Flanagan’s signature long shots and explorative shots are peppered throughout and each one of them is just as fun as they usually are, the other directors are not trying to do an impression of his work, which if they did I believe that would not have worked. Bly Manor looks great but different than the first season and it does benefit from its subtle changes in style episode to episode but do not expect the vision and polish of Flanagan’s full creative control of season one.
Bly Manor has an excellent score by The Newton Brothers, from its tense moments to macabre love ballads it always compliments the events onscreen. While the sound design is not uncomplimentary it was never unpredictable. Both score and sound design can make or break horror and in this case, I was missing some of the deep ambiences of the first season’s sound design. The viewer can always tell when they’re watching a character-driven scene or a scene with a scare and it makes Bly Manor feel different from your average horror which makes sense as at its heart Bly Manor is a character piece. This focus does sacrifice a bit of the genuine horror but it still has its standout moments. There is a scene where Dani is locked in a closet and the tension is nail-biting between her claustrophobic breathing and cries of terror.
While not quite as scary as the first season, the tangled web of the mystery of Bly Manor will keep viewers coming back to see how the fates of its relatable characters play out. Its thought-provoking and the heartbreaking narrative can be quite heavy for the often silly, spooky Halloween season but its broad appeal has the potential to bring in more than just horror fans and is an excellent gateway into the genre.