What We're Watching: Netflix's 'The Haunting of Bly Manor'

Text from The Haunting of Bly Manor on an aquatic motifNetflix / YouTube.com

I absolutely loved The Haunting of Hill House when it released on Netflix last year. I wanted a second season but I knew it wasn’t possible because the story had a very satisfying ending. But I have to have my cake and eat it too, because The Haunting was then announced as an anthology series, with The Haunting of Bly Manor as the second season. Bly Manor came out last week and I’ve had the chance to watch it all now.

For starters, it’s not your “typical” horror (if such a thing even existed in the first place). It’s a subtle horror, with what’s going on in the background often much more terrifying than what’s happening right in front of you. It’s my favorite horror genre (well, almost) because it feels more realistic to me than a lot of scary horror movies for the sake of scary.

Bly Manor is a multi-faceted horror as well, as it’s almost a horror story inside a horror story inside a horror story. Inside a haunted house. There’s a lot going on here, and you really have to be really careful with everything that’s going on. In fact, once I got most of the key plot points, I already wanted to watch it a second time to catch the little things that I missed the first time around.

It starts off slow but hits a high mark around Episode 4

The story begins with a rehearsal dinner for a wedding. It’s unclear who is going to get married (at least to begin with), but it’s obvious that there is a story between a few characters at the wedding party. It starts with a speech, then moves on to drinks and people-to-people fuss, when a woman steps up and says she “has a story,” but quickly notices that it’s not her story.

This particular aspect cannot be overlooked, as it sets the tone for Bly Manor right out of the gate. From there, this woman is the narrator of the story, and there’s a moment every episode or two to remind you of that with a voiceover. Except for one storyteller-focused episode, the story tells itself.

There are only nine episodes in the season, and you’ll be the first to try and get a feel for the characters in Bly Manor. There is the owner inherited from Bly, Henry Wingrave; the housekeeper, Hannah Grose; the cook, Owen; the gardener, Jamie; Henry’s niece and nephew, Miles and Flora; and the American au pair the story turns on, Dani Clayton. Dani is, for all intents and purposes, the main character of the series. While these are the main characters, story characters like Peter Quint and Rebecca Jessel are just as important to the overall story.

Dani Clayton at Bly ManorNetflix / YouTube.com

Each character is nuanced and complex, so you’ll also need to understand what’s really going on with each one. It’s established early on that Dani is running away from something, but you’ll have to watch multiple episodes to figure out what it is. It’s also clear from the start that something is wrong with the mansion, but it’s unclear what it really is. If you’ve watched Hill House, however, check your expectations at the door – it’s a whole different kind of haunting.

The first handful of episodes set the precedent for the series and then take a spin around episode four where you start to have a story. Various stories continue through the handful of subsequent episodes – including the expected backstory of The Lady of the Lake in Episode Eight – before it all ends in Episode Nine. The weaving of the current story with the backstory can be a bit difficult to follow at times (Looking at You, Episode Five), but it becomes clearer as the finale draws near.

It’s a story of horror, but also of love

One of the biggest complaints I heard about Bly Manor when it was released was that it wasn’t as scary as Hill House. That’s true to a point, especially as you get closer to the finale – it becomes less a story of ghosts and hauntings than a story of people, relationships, emotions, and even a story. love.

A collection of old dolls in a dark atticBut there are scary times. Netflix / YouTube.com

But that’s a big part of what makes Bly Manor special. Each character has a breakup about them, which becomes a bond between them (even if they don’t realize it). They are all very different people with very different backgrounds, but the common thread that unites them all is pain. They hurt from some form of loss, but they find solace in each other.

And the story of pain is not only true for the living characters in the story, but also for the dead. I’m not the type to offer spoilers so I won’t go into details, but the storytelling is sincere and genuine in a way you don’t often find in most horrors.

It’s worth watching, but it’s not without its issues

The Lady of the Lake rises from the water in The Haunting of Bly ManorNetflix / YouTube.com

I really enjoyed The Haunting of Bly Manor, but like most shows or movies, if you think about it long enough, you’ll find some little quirks that just don’t match.

As you get lost in each episode, you’ll almost forget that this is a story told in a rally, except for the occasional storyteller voiceover. But there are certain elements of the story that you have to wonder how the storyteller knew in the first place – things that were apparently only known by one or two characters. There are also other details that don’t quite match up, but I won’t mention them to avoid spoilers.

These types of moments create little holes in the overall story being told, but hey, nothing is perfect. I didn’t find them shocking enough to break the general flow of the story being told or the beauty held within the haunted walls of Bly Manor.

Nuanced or not, Bly Manor is a great watch that I wholeheartedly recommend not only to horror fans, but to anyone who loves a good story and can handle just a little horror.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.