If you’re still traumatized by Netflix series The Haunting of Hill House, prepare to sink into a dark hole all over again. Mike Flanagan follows up his first in the horror anthology with The Haunting of Bly Manor, a Gothic Romance-influenced ghost story based on Henry James novella The Turn of The Screw.
Taking an ’80s setting and a few of the same cast members from Hill House, Flanagan unfolds another beautiful tragedy with meticulous attention to detail and characters more haunted than the house.
The pieces don’t come together with the same neat fit as Hill House, with narrative choices that often bring bursts of epiphany, but also lulls of unnecessary overcomplication.
Still, Flanagan admirably unlocks new doors in the Haunting universe, gathering us around the fireplace for a story about found family and doomed love. It’s just as mesmeric, drawing you into a deep meditation on how to live after grief and loss.
Victoria Pedretti, who originally played Nell, returns to play Dani Clayton, a young American au pair with just as many secrets as the family she’s hired to work for.
She finds herself in the gorgeous Bly Manor surrounded by emerald green English countryside, with two beautiful children to care for: Miles and Flora Wingrave, played by the brilliantly charming Benjamin Evan Ainsworth and Amelie Smith.
But things aren’t what they seem: The housekeeper Hannah Grose (T’Nia Miller) keeps skipping meals, house chef Owen (Rahul Kohli) describes Bly as a “gravity well” that traps people and gardener Jamie (Amelia Eve) — well, she’s sarcastic, cool and keeps to herself, so there must be a hidden darkness.
Just as in the novella, the governess starts to glimpse people who no-one else seems to see. There’s a mystery surrounding the deaths of Mum and Dad Wingrave, as well as the previous governess Rebecca Jessel (Tahirah Sharif), who drowned in the nearby lake.
It starts off a little like an Agatha Christie novel, with Henry Thomas, the father in Hill House, returning to play whiskey abusing Uncle Wingrave, whose posh English accent you never quite get used to. Other Hill House faces, like Oliver Jackson-Cohen and Kate Siegal, also have new roles, giving even more sense there are ghosts everywhere.
Flanagan has a remarkable way of ensuring you care for his characters by enveloping you in their psychological trauma. Instead of focusing on one character and their backstory over an episode, he uses monologues, a supernatural doppelgänger and a maze of memories to trace hidden scars.
Occasionally, Penny Dreadful-esque philosophical conversations about life and death slow the story down. Flanagan’s arcade of ghosts continue to pull double duty as a metaphor for grief and loss, but this time he chooses to make them real, explaining their origins. It requires one episode to do narrative heavy-lifting — and it comes off a little disjointed.
Yet as a whole, Bly Manor is hypnotic. It holds you with a character’s sad gaze or induces a state of wonder with the surprisingly magical score from The Newton Brothers. A warm glow adds to the romance of the setting, but the magnificent manor itself makes a dripping tap sound like a gunshot.
It’s less scary than Hill House, with imagery that doesn’t quite match the memorable Bent Neck Lady. But Bly Manor’s jumpscares have an extra punch of psychological terror and Flanagan continues to fill his frames with negative space alive with mirrors, doorways and curtains.
The story isn’t as powerful as the Crain’s family drama, but The Haunting of Bly Manor will stay with you for days. Prepare to have it wring your chest in the same achingly painful, yet intoxicating way.
The Haunting of Bly Manor lands on Netflix Oct. 9.