The Haunting Of Bly Manor (2020)

A completely-different feel than HOHH with dazzling anthological performances, a pure elegance in score, beautiful English Country Manor sets, rich storytelling/characterization, & traumatization/love-themed atmospherics – but politicization, ill start, few scares. 7.6/10.

Plot Synopsis: The Haunting of Bly Manor is an American supernatural horror drama television series, created by Mike Flanagan for Netflix, and loosely based on Henry James’s work, particularly his 1898 novella The Turn of the Screw.

*Possible Spoilers Ahead*

CLC’s Best #HauntingOfBlyManor Episodes: 1. The Romance Of Certain Old Clothes, 2. The Way It Came, 3. The Altar Of The Dead, 4. The Jolly Corner, 5. Two Faces, Part One, 6. The Great Good Place, 7. The Pupil, 8. The Beast In The Jungle, 9. Two Faces, Part Two

Official CLC Review

A Maestro Of Atmospheric Horror

After Two Masterpieces In The Haunting Of Hill House & A Sequel To The Shining In Doctor Sleep, Mike Flanagan’s Back: Netflix

Photograph Courtesy Of: Netflix Originals

Mike Flanagan has achieved modern horror royalty. The 42-year old Towson-alum fostered a surgeon’s toolkit of atmospheric supernatural horror and deep characterization without reliance on jump-scares the genre has come to use as a subterfuge for real cinematic skill – of little surprise being born-and-raised in America’s oldest haunting grounds: Salem, MA. Hush, Ouija, and Oculus first got him on CLC’s radar, but 2018 was when his career really skyrocketed: the release of The Haunting Of Hill House on Netflix. Perhaps the scariest and best haunted-house/supernatural-horror project we’ve seen since The Shining, it was clear there was a new king in town. Perhaps the comparisons gaslighted his team, since his next project after that was a sequel to the very film HOHH invoked comparisons-to: 2019’s Doctor Sleep, one of the best sequels ever made and an impossibly-commensurate follow-up to the greatest horror film ever made: Kubrick’s 1980 The Shining. As far as we were concerned, he had reached the summit to even contend with a cinematic genius like Kubrick’s work – when it was announced he was coming back to Netflix for a victory-lap Hill House-followup. A completely-different feel than HOHH with strong anthological performances, pure elegance in score, beautiful English Country Manor setting, rich storytelling & characterization, and traumatization/loss-themed atmospheric love tragedy, but politicization, poor start & main character, false advertisement, and too-few scares, The Haunting Of Bly Manor is a passable TV series that is often a dazzling one – just not at the level it, or its predecessor, deserved.

A Brand New Story & Setting

A Brilliant Decision To Go Anthological Like AHS Casting The Same Actors In New Roles & Beautiful New English Country Manor Set

Photograph Courtesy Of: Netflix Originals

The new setting of Bly Manor might be the perfect ghost story setting. A beautiful, rich, old-world, mahogany-replete, architecturally-gorgeous English Country Manor dotting a pastoral landscape of luscious green rolling hills in Essex, United Kingdom, the grounds of Bly aptly-relate the atmospheric feeling of being there for centuries – even better than Hill House did. The cinematography is complete and diverse in bringing such a massive piece of property with endless grounds and nooks-and-crannies (the house has its own classroom to teach the children, for gosh’s sake) to screen. Countless establishment shots, long takes, color palettes of luxurious colors from its sensational opening credits sequence, sharp editing, period-authenticity in detail-intricate shot constructions, dreamlike uses of light (including a black-and-white episode that astounds later in the series), strong VFX, and Easter Eggs galore pack this visual canvas – hiding spectral shapes and figures in the far edges of each frame like the hundreds of houseguest-ghosts cameoing in the background of HOHH’s every scene. The score is pure elegance: a collection of lightly-touched, airy paino keys, contemplative pads, chilling note swells, and soaring emotional orchestration that captures the grandeur and tragedy of the story perfectly. The greatest achievements of the series by far, though, are the characterization, storytelling, and performances; the series feels very much like its predecessor in that regard: a huge compliment above the rest of the genre in how brilliantly and tautly it tells a complex, layered tale loaded with subtext, metaphor, ghost-love, and tragedy.

The Performances & Characterization

A Phenomenal Showcase Of The Storytelling & Characterization Prowess Of The Original By Magnificent Performances (Except Dani)

Photograph Courtesy Of: Netflix Originals

We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again: the best way to do a TV series is an anthology. Taking cues from the 10-season success of FX’s American Horror Story and Emmy-overflowing American Crime Story, as well as ancient clues from G.O.A.T. series like The Twilight Zone doing so by-episode instead of by-season, The Haunting Of Hill House learned the best way to reinvigorate and keep the show fresh for generations to come: new stories, new characters, new settings, and endless possibilities. It is always a genuine pleasure to see a TV show test its screenwriters, directors, costume-designers, actors/actresses, composer, cinematographer, make-up artists, set/prop-design, and everyone down to the production coordinator by sacrificing the bougie comfort that would follow such a mythic first season and roll the dice on something completely-new. Make no mistake, though: the craftsmen behind the first season are certainly felt in the storytelling, script, characterization, and performances. The original cast is back and better-than-ever: the British-accented class of Carla Gugino’s narratior, vulnerability of on-the-run/haunted Dallas-American Victoria Pedretti’s Dani Clayton, Oliver Jackson-Cohen’s devilishly-charming classism-bitter wolf-in-sheep-clothing Peter Quint, workaholic tragedy of family-adulterer Henry Thomas’ Lord Wingrave, breakaway performance of vengeful Viola Willoughby/Lady Of The Lake by Kate Siegel, and jealous second-fiddle of Catherine Parker’s murderous Perdita. They are met by a slew of new additions perhaps even better in performances than the original cast.

A More Complex & Deep Type Of Scares

THOBM’s Scares Aren’t [Often] Bump-In-The-Night/Boo; They’re Instead Our Biggest Regrets, Trauma, Loss, Mistakes, & Ill-Fate

Photograph Courtesy Of: Netflix Originals

Roby Atal’s childhood-sweetheart-turned-ocular-spectre Eddie O’Mara, tomboyish charm of people-hating gardener Amelia Eve’s Jamie, T’Nia Miller and Tahirah Sharif as the two strong black women Hannah & Jessel, Essoe and Holness as the two deceased infidelity-laden parents, Amelie Bea Smith as the perfectly-splendid adorable little girl Flora, Benjamin Evan Ainsworth as the troubled but loss-coping Miles, and, best of all, Rahul Kohli as the brown (especially-appreciated! we made it into something big representationally) charming, sick mother-caring, dad-joke-cracking chef and everyman Owen Sharma are irreplacable. The performances are magnificent, and each character three-dimensionally constructed before being taken on a whirlwind tour of characterization, depth in backstory writing, and horror all its own for a near-perfect canvas of storytelling by intangibles alone that also serves as a character-study of several important themes. If there’s one character and performance that sticks out as the weak link, it’s Pedretti’s Dani Clayton: a bizarrely-chaotic and misarraigned, poorly-accented Dallas girl that just feels off and is too sloppily/turbidly-acted to be the main character of the series (I understand she’s traumatized, but that doesn’t mean it’s good entertainment value; we’ll get to the many problems of her story arc later). There are also two plot holes: 1) what happened to the parents on their big worldwide trip..? Never explained even though it’s hinted at as crucial to the story and left Flora and Miles orphans – kind of important & sets up the whole plot, and 2) what happened to the glasses-ghost who haunts the entirety of the first-half only to never be seen again? Despite these two flaws, the series overall buoys – due in large part to the well-construction of its ghosts that play to THOBM’s bigger themes.

The Lady Of The Lake

A Masterpiece Episode 9 Tells A Perfect Ghost Story For The Queen Of Bly Manor – A Pure Elegance In Rich Orchestral Score

Photograph Courtesy Of: Netflix Originals

The ghosts in THOBM are fantastic – when they’re featured. Of course, the best one and the matriarch of the entire season is the roaming and violent, faceless The Lady In The Lake: given exposition and a masterpiece 17th century plague backstory by the All-Time great black-and-white nostalgic episode The Romance Of Certain Old Clothes itself a perfect hour-contained ghost-story (although it’s placed poorly being too late right before the season finale in Ep. 8 when it would’ve been better and taken less of the steam out of the main arc if placed mid-season). Runner-up and even challenging for best one is the first ghost we even see: the glasses-ghost that isn’t attached to Bly Manor but instead haunts Dani for what she did to him. That is the brilliance of The Haunting Of Bly Manor: it humanizes and paints rich, layered, depth-filled, beautifully-told, allegorical/metaphorical backstories for its ghosts as more than things that go bump-in-the-night or boo when it’s dark outside. The horror here is instead in the lines not said, our biggest mistakes/regrets, the times we’ve been wronged or betrayed, the cruelty of fate, past trauma, self-worth inferiority, infidelity, ambition-unfulfilled, purgatorical constructs, the erasure properties of time, identity and the loss of what makes us ourselves, and the unspeakable horror of losing or being separated from the ones we love most – perhaps even being our fault or the fault of things we can’t control. The scares are thus more complex, universal, realism-base, and twice-removed: a subversion that will be sure to impress critics and advanced viewers if they can properly-diagnose the hidden meaning of what its trying to say – but most, I suspect, won’t.. and, on strict entertainment-value, it does pale in comparison to its predecessor.

Where Are The Scares?

A Sequel To The Best & Bone-Rattling Scariest Supernatural Horror-Fest I’ve Seen In 10-20+ Years HAS To Be Scary, Right?

Photograph Courtesy Of: Netflix Originals

The storytelling and characterization will make you love, laugh, cry, and think – but there’s one emotion ~wholly missing from The Haunting Of Bly Manor: fear. ‘Where are the scares?’ will undoubtedly be the central question on everybody’s minds as they navigate the near-10 hours of material – and, besides some intellectual cogitation and contextualization as outlined in the previous paragraph.. there aren’t many. This is positively bizarre being a follow-up to perhaps the scariest supernatural horror project I’ve seen in years in The Haunting Of Hill House – a name-association and recognition alone that mandates bone-rattling scares. Even more curious than the lack of anything that remotely gets the blood-pumping or supplies the visceral/physical excitement of horror and dark-side trip we crave going to horror is that those are the easiest part of horror; it’s far more difficult to achieve any cerebration or thematic depth with your scares than it is to make things go ‘boo’ or something as twisted and sadistic as ‘The Bent-Neck Lady’ from HOHH and something I just wholly don’t understand how THOBM could leave out. The entire first-half of the season does not have one bonafide scare I would argue, and is mercilessly-slow – there are some in the back-half like the dress-arm kill in The Romance Of Old Clothes and Lady In The Lake, but they are so miniscule and far-between that the series merits a false-advertisement designation: it should be a drama/romance and not horror. There is a stark difference between slow-burn atmospheric horror and just.. boring – a tight-rope THOBM treads dangerously and, while it’s got enough clever ideas to keep it (barely) up on that rope in CLC’s vote, it will understandably be a massive anticlimax/jarring dissonance for the vast majority of people coming from and because of Hill House and expecting anything like it.

A Polticized Start & Mixed End

The Mandate Of Man-Hate From Ep. 1 Is Off-Putting, Tiresome, & Hypocritical On Its Horrors-Of-Trauma Theme; Anticlimax End

Photograph Courtesy Of: Netflix Originals

The series thus self-sabotages and suffers an identity-crisis holding it back from being truly great in either category: horror or (its far-closer achievement as) romance. The frame story angle was also not the smartest idea kind of ruining the effect knowing it’s a story and ostensibly-fictional instead of happening live to real characters and stakes, clichés-omnipresent in child horror, possession, mini-houses ,and ghost stories in general, and ‘dead live forever’ theme wholly-recycled from the first season and a hackneyed and over-belabored part that’s amongst the worst parts of THOBM – in heated competition with its hypocritical man-hate politicization. [Sigh]. Here we go again: it is inexplicable how or why such angry fake-feminist propaganda keeps seeping its way into pop culture and mass media. This is not equality as most level-headed people and CLC support worldwide; this is trying to paint men as evil or inferior – here not even just limited to men, but even boys aren’t safe now. From the first episode, we are barraged with an avalanche of mansplaining, demonization, violence, thievery, infidelity, physical abuse, deadbeat substitute-fatherhood, creepy-smiles by little boys watching their nannies get undressed, and problematic language like ‘men [being] the thing that tears down ambitious young women’ and ‘you’re such a lovely man.. why must you speak?’. Even the subtle nuances paint troubling imagery like gospel accounts linking men, demons, and pigs: nice. The horrors-of-trauma is a central theme in THOBM and one of its core empathy-invokers being the suicide of Miss Jessel – but the show hypocritically-creates its own trauma for young coming-of-age boys and men watching and being constantly told in every direction they look that they’re bad, ‘trash’ and were born with these toxic/evil characteristics because of their gender.. pure, real trauma that lingers negatively in the mind and is a commonly-mentioned partial-driver of the group already committing suicide by the biggest margin in world-history in modern-times: men (at rates 3-4X greater than women’s by CDC metrics FYI, and this type of hate-mongering propaganda being forced into a TV show people go to for escapism/relaxation does nothing but make it worse).

A Ghost Love Story

The Central Theme Of The Series Is Love – & The Tragedies It Paints Across Its Many Are Great, Except Better-Deserving LGBTQ+ Arc

Photograph Courtesy Of: Netflix Originals

Bizarre even more about the whole show is that, after painting men as such inexorable irritations making everything worse early-on, the show does a complete-180 and explains that their misgivings and poor actions early-on were caused by other problems. Quint was killed right before he was about to make his big escape to America with Miss Jessel, Miles was possessed by a vengeful mature spirit driving his actions against his will for his misgivings, and Henry was subject to horrors-of-the-mind and the guilt of betrayal of why he distanced from the children – and was given 100% of the blame/banished by his dead brother even though Charlotte was just as much to blame for her infidelity to her husband with his brother. The entire back-half of the season repents for these jabs by not even having really one bad thing to say about men either, a refreshing reversal that makes you partially-forgive but not forget its poor-taste start that will inevitably make many viewers turn off the show out of lecture and PTSD – sadly not giving it a chance as it improves towards the finale. The show really is all about love – of the ghost-love variety specifically. The Bonnie-and-Clyde love of Jessel & Peter, the heart-warming courtship of Owen-and-Ms.-Grose, childhood sweetheart cuties Dani and Eddie, LGBTQ+ romance of Dani and Jamie, future wedding of Flora and her boyfriend, and 17th Century business-partnership-turned-marriage of Viola and Lloyd are all painted and developed magnificently – rosy in love until they each end in horrific tragedies as the main horror theme of the series. The LGBTQ+ arc was the best one we were really rooting-for, but its handling is problematic and unfortunate. The arc feels forced and sadly almost like conversion-propaganda because of its politicization of man-hate: a second-prize to run-to away-from men (even worsely-scripted because its from Eddie who dies horrifically ~because of Dani’s actions and is then resorted to being the ghost haunting her & ruining her relationship as well as driving it when his life ended tragically) as a backup instead of the first choice, only-option, and real love most LGBTQ+ members feel for their chosen partner and orientation. The romance between Dani and Jamie is great and we love and see the pure beauty in LGBTQ+ and lesbian romance (check out our review of Portrait Of A Lady On Fire: one of our top-rated films of the 2000’s so-far) just as much as any other type of romance – we just wish it was painted better and not problematically by its origin.

Conclusion

A Mixed Tale Of Ghost Love

A TV Series That Paints A Melancholic Portraiture Of Loss, Trauma, Betrayal, & Cruel Fate In A Beautiful Setting With Storytelling Magnificence, But Needed More

Photograph Courtesy Of: Netflix Originals

Overall, The Haunting Of Bly Manor is a series with glimpses of greatness and tons of phenomenally-storytold intellectual worth – but one can’t help but yearn it was more. The scares here are not bump-in-the-night things-that-go-boo; the scares of THOBM are realism-base, accessible, and deep-rooted in humanity: the love, loss, betrayal, trauma, lines not said, mistakes, regrets, and cruelty of fate we each walk through in life as The Lady Of The Lake does on her nightly rounds back to her once-throne. The performances are magnificent, the English Country Manor setting breathtaking, score elegant, characterization and screenwriting prowess rich, ghosts it does paint fantastic, episode 8 a masterpiece that paints a perfect ghost story itself in The Romance Of Certain Old Clothes, and anthological decision brilliant – but it has a pervasive sense of anticlimax. Maybe it’s the fact that it follows quite possibly the best and scariest supernatural horror project I’ve witnessed in a solid 10-20 years: The Haunting Of Hill House (that packed more scares in its first episode than this does the entire season, while still being competitive-or-better in every other aspect). Maybe it’s the poor-taste politicization of man-hate that comes across as a mandated agenda-checklist hypocritical to its horrors-of-trauma main theme – and betrays its one bad main character: Dani, while also detracting from the potential of its beautiful LGBTQ+ arc to a run-away backup plan than independent-prize all its own. A completely-different feel than HOHH with strong anthological performances, pure elegance in score, beautiful English Country Manor setting, rich storytelling & characterization, and traumatization/loss-themed atmospheric love tragedy, but politicization, poor start & main character, false advertisement, and too-few scares, The Haunting Of Bly Manor is a passable TV series that is often a dazzling one – just not at the level it, or its predecessor, deserved.

Official CLC Score: 7.6/10