With a promise of ghastly ghouls and haunted hallways, The Haunting of Bly Manor subverts all expectations and instead excels at multiple genres at once.
Mike Flanagan, having directed several fantastic horror films under his belt, turned towards television in 2018 when he created The Haunting of Hill House. There, he brought his own flavour to a longer form of storytelling, writing characters with fascinating family dynamics dealing with trauma. The show, which promised lots of scares, surprised audiences with a deeper exploration into family trauma.
Needless to say, The Haunting of Hill House set a new standard for horror, providing both the scares and the emotional weight for audiences.
Now, having returned to produce a second show, Flanagan introduces audiences to Bly Manor, a mansion filled with its own ghost stories to tell.
The Haunting of Bly Manor is a gorgeously-created Netflix series, starring brilliant actors and a script so well-written it deserves an award.
Let’s address the elephant in the room: The Haunting of Bly Manor is not exactly a horror. It’s a romance.
It certainly does have the ghosts and the scares enough to fill, well, a giant creepy mansion. But if you come into the show expecting nightmares, you won’t get that.
I’ve seen many people discuss how disappointed they were with the show, how it was not what they expected, and that it was a disappointing follow-up to the masterful Hill House.
It needs to be acknowledged that the script focuses more on human relationships and romances, especially in the first half of the show. I assume this would have been a huge turn-off for many horror fanatics, especially when ghosts were far and few in-between.
But I promise you that the show does have its pay-offs, and towards the second half when all the threads start coming together, it’ll be a lot clearer why everything is happening the way it is.
The show is still scary.
Faceless ghosts, silhouettes lurking in the shadows and figures standing in reflections all feature in Bly Manor. The different ghosts all have some great character designs too, for example the inclusion of a plague doctor who frequently cameos in the first episode.
And what better way to complement ghosts than creepy children with creepy (and horrifyingly detailed) dolls. Credit where credit’s due, the child actors both did a great performance with their respective characters.
In fact, the main cast all brought their A-game to the entire series.
I was caught a little off-guard by how many of the cast mates from the previous show were appearing as different characters. It was also a little jarring at times given their…strange accents. But once you get over it, they really do deliver a great performance.
The new cast mates also did a fantastic job and I really enjoyed their performances. The adults who take care of the children are all likeable and charming, and you really empathise with them through the entire series.
As a side note, there is a cameo by a brilliant (and frankly quite shocking) actor who appears at the start. I won’t spoil it, but eagle-eyed viewers should definitely keep their eye out.
And yet, what holds this entire show together is the fantastic script.
What starts as a seemingly slow and mundane love story turns into an overarching narrative about souls trapped at Bly Manor, left for an eternity to wander the halls of the mansion.
It’s tragic, emotional, and yet, just like Hill House, leaves you with a sense of beauty and astonishment.
It shows you that the real horror isn’t ghosts, but the inevitability of time and unfulfilled regrets. At the same time, it reminds you that even in the darkest hours, there is still beauty to be found in living. And in death.
So while The Haunting of Bly Manor may not be the terrifying, nightmare-inducing watch that you were hoping for in Halloween, it is a beautifully crafted narrative. It explores great character relationships, gives audience some fresh perspectives, and maybe even a good scare or two.
The Haunting of Bly Manor is now available to watch on Netflix.