‘The Haunting of Bly Manor’: fewer jump scares than ‘Hill House,’ more feelings
Elizabeth Gregory | Tuesday, October 20, 2020
“The Haunting of Bly Manor” succeeds in symbolism, mystery and emotional execution. However, it struggles with pacing, nuance and frights. The show is a sequel to “The Haunting of Hill House,” which captivated and spooked audiences with its unabashed jump scares, eerily well-developed Bent Neck lady ghost and authentic depiction of family dysfunction. Creator Mike Flanagan’s ambitious ensemble project brilliantly mastered the virtues of a terrifying, suspense-filled atmosphere. It faced critiques, though, for its ending.
“The Haunting of Bly Manor” seems to have processed this complaint and moved forward to new challenges. Flanagan has refined his long form storytelling skills but loses some of “Hill House’s” punch despite the clear exercise of his creative muscles.
The lack of spooks is perhaps the most immediate difference between “The Haunting of Bly Manor” and its predecessor. The first season promised at least one big scare in every episode. In “Bly Manor,” though, the biggest ghostly jump scares are over by the fourth episode. From then on, there is little else that would require the use of wheresthejump.com.
Aside from that potential shortcoming, “The Haunting of Bly Manor” leans into atmosphere, symbolism and the “slow-burning” feel of a thriller. The ’80s-style clothing, foggy countryside, creepy little kids and assortment of odd dolls give the season an essence that is spooky but playful. This different type of horror works better in some episodes than others. Episode five especially succeeds in delivering the story of Hannah, the dazed but strong housekeeper. Slowly, the gravity of Hannah’s fear and devotion traps her. We discover that she’s been dead all along, clinging to an illusion through her repetition and stubborn will.
Momentum is definitely a challenge for “The Haunting of Bly Manor.” For example, the penultimate episode introduces the manor’s backstory in a predictable and thematically repetitive tale of two sisters. This choice disrupts the energy right before the big finale. Furthermore, pacing struggles because of narration that seems to pop up in odd places. The format of a story within a story, told by Jamie the Gardener at a wedding years later, works thematically. However, it drags the plot in odd places and adds little.
Still, the show manages to pull at viewers’ heartstrings. For one, the cheesy romance between Jamie and Dani the au pair is a win for sapphic women — the last episode paints their relationship quickly, but sweetly.
However, the finale is most effective in depicting Dani’s demise. Dani knows she is going to die. The Bly Manor ghost resides within her, waiting to take them both back to the haunted lake. Eerie moments of Dani staring into the overflowing bathtub at the ghost’s face or suddenly dropping the dishes work well. Whether you interpret her tale as a symbol for debilitating mental illness or as something else entirely, the show seems to champion the embrace of an uncertain present. Certainly, amidst the loss and fear of this semester, this is a meaningful message.
Show: “The Haunting of Bly Manor”
Starring: Carla Gugino, Katie Siegel, Victoria Pedretti, T’Nia Miller
Favorite episodes: “The Altar of the Dead,” “The Beast in the Jungle”
If you like: “The Haunting of Hill House,” “Ratched,” “American Horror Story”
Where to watch: Netflix
Shamrocks: 3.5 out of 5