The Haunting of Bly Manor (2020)

Let me start by saying I thoroughly I enjoyed this follow-up season of ‘The Haunting’ series. There is so much to unpack, and to do so without spoilers will be difficult but I will give it my best shot. Once powering through the nine episodes this season holds, I did as I always do and looked up people’s reactions and opinions. I was shocked to see the negative reviews and comments about the show I had so thoroughly enjoyed. Whilst some are valid in their dislike for the season as everybody does have their own taste and is entitled to their opinion, there are some opinions I read that showed that some people’s thoughts went wrong along the way. Whether it was misunderstanding the horror genre in general, comparing Bly Manor to Hill House too closely, or believing this show would be an accurate adaptation of the novel. So, I will break these thoughts down a little and explain why I think anybody who has a distasteful view on The Haunting of Bly Manor based solely on these opinions, is wrong. Is this going to be controversial? Oh well.

A regular misconception about horror is that the horror piece in question must be constantly scary, constant frights and jump scares and scenes to instil fear in somebody, to keep the audience on edge. For many reasons this simply is not the case. Horror is my favourite genre, and for each varying piece of horror art there are different expectations and aspects that are necessary. A horror movie will differ from a horror art-piece, and a horror game will differ from a horror television show. What we are used to when we digest horror is mostly movies, we watch 120 minutes of a frightened main character as they try to escape or fight or outsmart the bad guy. And the bad guy, well usually they are somewhat super-human even when they are not meant to be. There’s not much time in a movie to truly live a life with these characters, to understand them and sympathise or aggressively hate. Sure, some manage it and we go on to praise these movies for being so smart and creative, but many more horror movies unfortunately flop because rather than focusing on how to get the audience to care about the characters, they focus on the fear and the gore and the jump scares. They focus on this so much so that we are no longer scared because it all becomes just a little bit funny instead. A horror game needs these aspects, however, because if you were simply running everywhere with no worry of the big bad coming to get you then playing the game would not be enticing at all.

A horror television show is a little more complicated than everything mentioned above. However, many episodes a show chooses to have it is still going to be longer than a film, obviously because otherwise… they would have just made a film. Whether it is three episodes, nine episodes or twenty episodes, a television show will have more depth to it. Because this isn’t a matter of wanting to keep you there to watch what happens, this is a matter of wanting to make you care so much you actively seek another episode. This is what Bly Manor was doing. As always it was creepy and spooky and something about it constantly rose the hairs on the back of your neck (probably the fact that, the same as in Hill House, there was almost always something lurking in the background), but more importantly this story was about the people in the centre of the creepy plot. The au pair who seemed to just be too good and too sweet for this world that when you place her in a situation of fear and terror nothing seems right because that’s not how it should be for her; the housekeeper who was so down to earth and so warm that when you notice her spiralling you realise only something so tragic could cause this; the cook who was full of hopes and dreams and love that you just know all of that can’t last forever; the gardener who was already so wounded from the reality of her life that all you want is for her to have a break. And the children, they’re so young that they should be so innocent and gentle, but something is constantly off with them and it’s not just their trauma causing it – so why in the world are they acting this way? This is what keeps a television show going, not the jump scares or the fear.

People often think to have a good piece of horror they must be consistently terrified and looking through their hands because they’re so afraid of what is happening next and ultimately this isn’t the case. I’m not putting that type of horror down, because I, too, love watching something in constant fear. However, not everything that falls under ‘horror’ is going to do this to a person. The true horror of Bly Manor is in the hopelessness and the heartache and the grief felt throughout. It’s in the way Dani (Victoria Pedretti) is trying everything in her power to forget her past that’s consistently haunting her, it’s in the pain and toxicity of the relationship between Rebecca (Tahirah Sharif) and Peter (Oliver Jackson-Cohen), it’s in the confused and chaotic mind of Hannah (T’Nia Miller). It’s in the pain and the horror of the lady in the lake, and the understanding that the children are so young and so naïve, and their lives should not be like this.

Yes, there is the sprinkle of ghosts, and the ominous lighting and carefully placed camera shots, all of which cause an uneasy feeling on the audience. The script, the way the actors and actresses carry themselves and say their lines, the set in general. All of this causes and air of nervousness on those watching, but it needs to be remembered that horror comes in all shapes and forms and Bly Manor is one of them.

The other aspect I wanted to look at was those who compare Bly Manor to Hill House. It’s an understandable thing to do, considering they are part of the same series. However, these are different plots, different stories, different characters, different actors and actresses (mostly), different everything. To compare the two seasons is unfair. Hill House focused so much on grief and the fear a parent has for their child, how hard it is to let somebody go. Bly Manor focuses on grief also, but also guilt and revenge and anger and sorrow. Yes, both seasons have similar aspects, both have the lovely goth feel about them, but they are two very different stories and should be treated as such. Hill House was incredible, and there will likely be no topping it because it started something new and exciting and grasped each one of us in a way we didn’t know a show could (whether through how relatable some characters were in their ways of dealing with grief, or perhaps just the love for the characters and the family within the story) but not living up to the hype of Hill House does not make Bly Manor a bad show.

I’m not going to spend much time on explaining why comparing The Haunting of Bly Manor to Henry James’novels is a bad angle to go down and a bad outlook to have when going into watching the show, because I believe this should be common sense. The show never claimed to be an exact adaptation, it never claimed it would stick firmly to the source, it describes itself as a ‘loose adaptation’ meaning they have taken certain aspects from James’ work that they want to work with, but they did not want to recreate the entire story as it were. This happens often, this is a regular occurrence in television and movie. Most books are not recreated perfectly on screen and all you can ask for is that they do not try to claim that they have made an exact rendition of the novel, which Mike Flanagan has not claimed. As I have said, it very clearly states it is a loose adaptation, all you need to do is carry out a quick google search of your own to discover that.

The Haunting of Bly Manor is not without its faults, but that doesn’t make it a bad television show. Yes, there are some pacing issues, some strange lines written into the script, but the show itself is still enjoyable. There is still a connection to be had with the characters, still a story to follow, still answers to want. The story is gripping because they drag it out, they don’t shove answers down your throat. It could have been cut shorter, of course, but something about the slow pacing almost worked for the story. You have to be patient until you find out what happened, just like the characters do. Usually I don’t like stories that time-jump all over the place, things can get messy and confusing very quickly, however they managed to pull this one off successfully. There is a lot of time hopping, a lot of moments where it might take a second to know exactly what’s happening, but you always get your answer and they do it brilliantly. The acting was fantastic. I fully expected Victoria Pedretti and Oliver Jackson-Cohen to knock it out of the park, after all they were two of my favourites from Hill House, but each actor and actress showed their skill and talent throughout and each had a moment to let it shine. Some who really stood out to me were Benjamin Evan Ainsworth, who played young Miles so well that it really unsettled the audience but when he was just a boy… he truly was just a boy, Ainsworth nailed those subtle differences. Amelia Eve as Jamie was beautiful, she can truly portray love and desperation in her eyes and it created a softness to Jamie’s hardass exterior and it made me love her just a little more. And, of course, T’Nia Miller as Hannah. She was incredible, beautiful, sorrowful and powerful in everything she did. I adored Hannah, I adore T’Nia, I want to see more of her everywhere if I can.

The biggest problem television shows face is how do they close off the story? How do they say goodbye to the characters we’ve been invested in? (Just look at what happened with Game of Thrones, a show can be incredible, but the ending can cause an uproar.) I’ll hold my hands up and say, confidently, that I preferred the ending of Bly Manor in relation to the ending of Hill House. There was a closure in the final episode, the story was tied up and finished with a slightly gothic and tear-stained bow around it. It was heart-wrenching and beautiful and a further dive into an aspect of horror that people forget, the idea that something can stick with you and never let you leave no matter how hard you try, that for everyone death is just around the corner at every turn. The time you have just depends on how quickly death wants to act.

Between strange accents (although as a Scottish person I didn’t actually mind Peter’s Scottish accent generally), slow pacing, beautiful lighting and settings, fantastic performances and an overwhelming sense of sorrow, Bly Manor was a beautifully flawed piece of work and I will definitely recommend to anybody that they should watch it.

7/10

~ Becky

The Haunting of Bly Manor is currently available on Netflix

4 Comments

  1. Haven’t run my review yet, but agree with you; this was a great tv show, and all the better for not imitating Hill House. I loved the detail in the explanation, and ducking horror cliches and offering something more reflective…

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you! That’s much appreciated, the original idea was to just have a basic review but once I saw what others were saying I couldn’t help but try and counter-argue their points. I’m also glad to see somebody else who enjoyed the show!

      Liked by 1 person

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