The Haunting of Bly Manor
Much has been written about this contemporary era of horror media. This is most readily apparent in cinema, where a work like Get Out can even receive an Academy Award nomination for Best Picture. Not nearly as remarked upon, however, is how horror has carved out its own niche on television and streaming platforms. Where once Stephen King lamented how horror on television was constrained by Standards and Practices and the demands of advertisers, streaming and premium cable have allowed creatives to sidestep that problem entirely. As a result, showrunners are free to explore horror in any way they see fit, and treat the medium as a serious vehicle for storytelling. Director Mike Flanagan was one of the biggest beneficiaries of this newfound appreciation for horror, as evidenced by the success of his adaptation of The Haunting of Hill House for Netflix, and he has proven successful once again with the second installment of the Haunting anthology series, The Haunting of Bly Manor.
Flanagan already restrained himself from using many traditional scares in Hill House, and restrains himself even further in Bly Manor. Instead, he asks the audience to be patient as he slowly and surely conjures up an atmosphere of anxiety within the titular manor. As we enter Bly Manor alongside Dani, a young American au pair (Victoria Pedretti), we are introduced to the daily schedules of its staff and the two children whom Dani will be watching. There are no obvious scares during this sequence and there is nothing that overtly suggests to the viewer that something is amiss. However, dread lingers in the air. We know that the two children are orphans. We know that the au pair before Dani passed away under mysterious circumstances. And we know that of the children, Miles has been sent home prematurely from boarding school. As The Haunting of Bly Manor progresses, it further works to solve those mysteries, plus many others that linger in the manor’s walls.
Flanagan’s adaptation of The Haunting of Hill House was less a direct adaptation of Shirley Jackson’s work and used it more as a blueprint to tell its own story, something that Flanagan does once again with Bly Manor and Henry James’ The Turn of the Screw. For in addition to The Turn of the Screw, Flanagan incorporates two other Henry James short stories, “The Jolly Corner” and “Romance of Certain Old Clothes” into his narrative, and from them, spins his own take on a ghost story. Flanagan depicts his ghosts as more than simply vessels to instill fear. He explores what causes his ghosts to linger, why they haunt, and what pain they pass on to others.
He’s aided quite adeptly by his cast, most capably by the actors playing the two children, Benjamin Evan Ainsworth as Miles and Amelie Bea Smith as Flora. The emotions the two explore would be exhausting for actors of any talent, let alone two so young. Yet they both are able to explore the melancholy, rage, and jealousy of children who have lost their parents. Yet also, they are able to find moments of beauty and happiness as well. The circumstances they find themselves in have forced both children to grow up much faster than would be considered humane, and Ainsworth and Smith both prove more than capable of meeting the labor such roles would demand of them.
There may be those who will be disappointed with The Haunting of Bly Manor, and how it seemingly pulls even further away from traditional scares than The Haunting of Hill House. But those who stay will find a series that is richly rewarding in both scares and in depth.