Mike Flanagan and co. are back with a new installment of “The Haunting” anthology housed at Netflix. “The Haunting of Bly Manor” features some familiar faces from “The Haunting of Hill House” but in different roles and story. The inspiration for Bly Manor is based on Henry James’s 1898 novella “The Turn of the Screw.” Don’t worry, there’s still a creepy house involved, with secrets lurking in the basement, but Flanagan has chosen to go beyond the first season’s scares and bring new hauntings that will strike a nerve and linger. Sophomore seasons are notorious for making or breaking a series after a successful first season, but “The Haunting of Bly Manor” proves that this anthology series has legs to go the distance and is perfectly splendid.
The ’80s was a peak time for horror, so it felt like a nice nod to adapt James’s novel to this time period set in England. Henry Wingrave (Henry Thomas) hires a young American nanny, Dani (Victoria Pedretti), to care for his orphaned niece Flora (Amelie Bea Smith) and nephew Miles (Benjamin Evan Ainsworth) who reside at Bly Manor with the estate’s chef Owen (Rahul Kohli), groundskeeper Jamie (Amelia Eve) and housekeeper, Mrs. Grose (T’Nia Miller). But all is not as it seems at the manor, and centuries of dark secrets of love and loss are waiting to be unearthed. And just like Hill House, dead doesn’t necessarily mean gone.
There are many ways to take in a sophomore season that can affect your feelings on how you receive it. While it can be easy to compare Bly Manor with Hill House, it’d be a disservice to use that as the only barometer to judge this new installment. “The Haunting of Bly Manor” is showcasing a different set of horror tools that create some internal jump scares that take root and continue to grow and haunt while you sit and think more about what Flanagan is presenting you with. While Hill House had very intense and iconic jump scares and characters, Bly Manor is playing with what real-life, everyday horror looks like. And with that, everyone at some level can relate to a loss of a loved one, feeling guilt of past mistakes, loving someone and the sinister aspects of control.
The story thread that evoked the most gut-wrenching feeling for me was that of Peter Quint (Oliver Jackson-Cohen) and Miss Jessel (Tahirah Sharif). Miss Jessel was the nanny of the Wingrave children before Dani. Throughout the season we learn about Miss Jessel’s relationship with Peter through haunted memories and ultimately learn exactly how she died. The fascinating thing about this particular thread is that it’s not rooted in anything supernatural. Peter is manipulative, jealous and controlling. No jump scares or bent-neck ladies are needed to emphasize the horror of manipulation and control someone can possess over someone else — and how it can be too late when that realization sets in. Flanagan’s at his best when diving into these real-life horror threads and subverting what you think horror should be with what it actually is.
Pedretti’s performance as Nell Crain in “The Haunting of Hill House” was compelling. The complexity and heartbreak of Nell was conveyed beautifully by Pedretti, and seeing her as the protagonist in Bly Manor was a treat. Her turn as Dani gave her even more room to play and dig deep into portraying a character who is going through grief and a haunting past she is desperately trying to escape.
Another familiar face is Oliver Jackson-Cohen as Peter. Jackson-Cohen had an impressive performance as the addict Luke Crain in Hill House. It seemed fitting to bring back these two who had breakout roles with their impressive performances to Bly Manor, and they did not disappoint. Jackson-Cohen, fresh from starring in “The Invisible Man” alongside Elisabeth Moss, has the ability to charm with an underlying sinister quality. As Peter, he brings to life one of the more disturbing storylines of Bly Manor, alongside the terrific Tahirah Sharif as Miss Jessel.
Big kudos to the new players in Bly Manor who stole the show. Rahul Kohli as Owen was delightful every time he graced the screen, and the only complaint I have would be that he deserved more of his own storyline. Amelia Eve as groundskeeper Jamie was a refreshing and bright spot in Bly Manor and was an unexpected storyline that I didn’t see coming, but happily took in. And T’Nia Millerand as housekeeper Mrs. Grose was a standout with her standalone episode that propelled the second half of the season into haunting emotional depths. Here’s to hoping some of these new faces will stick around with Flanagan should another season come to pass.
But the real breakouts of “The Haunting of Bly Manor” — just like Pedretti and Jackson-Cohen were to Hill House — are Amelia Bea Smith as Flora and Benjamin Evan Ainsworth as Miles. The Wingrave children are an integral part of the story. Smith and Ainsworth come off as seasoned pros and beyond their years with the performances given in Bly Manor. Their roles required them to be more than just the typical creepy kids in a horror show, and they were up for the challenge.
The horror films and television shows that stick with me long after they end are those that are rooted in the human stories and relationships that go awry and the horrible things people can do to one another, emotionally speaking. And there’s also the idea of what one’s memories and past can do to one’s self, if you let yourself go down a rabbit hole of guilt. “The Haunting of Bly Manor” explores these themes to evoke emotional jump scares that are equally as potent as its physical counterpart. It’s easy to make a viewer jump, but that scare eventually vanishes. It’s another thing to pose questions and scenarios that leave you haunted for a longer duration. That’s where Flanagan’s Bly Manor succeeds. A vastly different horror experience to that of Hill House, but nonetheless still very haunting.
With that said, just like its predecessor, there are horror elements that will become the signature of this season, just like the bent-neck lady was to Hill House. With so many horror films and television shows in the zeitgeist, making horror elements that feel fresh can be a daunting task, but “The Haunting of Bly Manor” managed to inject some fun nuggets. And of course throwing in a few creepy dolls doesn’t hurt, to remind that dolls will always be creepy, no matter how many times they show up in horror.
The Lingering Feelings
If you were a fan of “The Haunting of Hill House,” it may take a few episodes to adjust to the different pacing and direction of “The Haunting of Bly Manor.” It may be off-putting for some to not have those immediate jump scares, but the season will deliver if you let it. Bly Manor keeps the spirit of the first season, but finds its own identity that is beneficial to the anthology franchise. Seeing a lot of the same in back-to-back seasons would hurt the chances of where this anthology could go. Now that Flanagan has established that he’s not scared to dive into different horror territory and not feed into what people are expecting, it’s exciting to see where this series could go next.
Catherine grew up watching action flicks at a very young age which led to her love of film. She graduated from the University of Texas at Austin with a Bachelors in Radio-TV-Film in 2012. Always the adventurer, Catherine traveled and lived in Sydney, Australia for a year where she took a selfie with Brad Pitt. She runs Shuffle with passion, lots of caffeine and tacos. When she’s not editing or writing you can find her crafting and planning her next adventure.