Every year, since the dawn of Netflix originals, each October has brought with it an assortment of new spooky tales for the masses to binge. One such offering this year was “The Haunting of Bly Manor,” a much anticipated follow up to the critically acclaimed 2016 Netflix original series “The Haunting of Hill House,” created by horror veteran Mike Flanagan. Caution: spoilers ahead!
“Bly Manor” follows the story of Dani Clayton (Victoria Pedretti), a young American teacher living in the UK who has been hired as a governess for two young children living on a grand estate in the English countryside called (you guessed it) Bly Manor.
After their parents’ death two years prior, the children, Flora and Miles, came to live at Bly under the guardianship of their Uncle Henry. Henry spends most of his time working in London, showing little interest in the children’s lives. Instead, the children are minded by governesses and the manor’s live-in staff: Hannah, the housekeeper, Owen, the cook, and Jamie, the gardener.
While running from misfortune in her own life, Dani has inadvertently found herself in a place that seems to attract tragedy like flies to a corpse. Soon after her arrival, she learns that the children’s previous governess, Miss Jessel, drowned herself in the property’s lake and was found by Flora the next morning. This, combined with the strangers she keeps seeing wandering the grounds, puts Dani very much on edge.
As one might expect, over the course of the series, we learn that there are more than a few ghosts haunting the people and grounds of Bly Manor. A faceless little boy, a woman who trails muddy footprints through the house every few nights, and a man with brightly-glowing glasses all make appearances.
The inspiration for “Bly Manor” came from Henry James’ 1898 novella “The Turn of the Screw.” It follows the source material’s plot closely, drawing almost all of its main characters directly from the book.
The biggest issue with the series lies in its use of multiple timelines-“Hill House” did this very effectively, but “Bly Manor” struggles to live up to the standard set by its predecessor.
Several different timelines are happening throughout the series, which is tricky enough to follow as it is. However, as the series progresses, we discover that characters frequently jump back and forth in time unexpectedly for two reasons: when they are dead or when a ghost is possessing them. While these sequences are an essential part of the plot, all the back and forth is liable to give some viewers mental whiplash. If you’re the type of viewer who likes to turn on a show to run in the background while you’re doing other tasks, “Bly Manor” is not a good fit. Likewise, if you prefer a plot that’s straightforward and easy to follow, this is definitely not the show for you.
Nonetheless, Flanagan and his team of writers have artfully woven several real-world issues into the spooky series. Each of the eight episodes presents viewers with thoughtful commentary on love, possession, and the cycle of abuse, as well as some subtle allegories for mental illness.
While it largely does not live up to the standard set by “The Haunting of Hill House,” “Bly Manor” is still an enjoyable series to watch thanks to its well-crafted characters and overarching themes. All eight episodes are available now, only on Netflix.