The Haunting of Bly Manor premieres this week on Netflix. Ostensibly billed as season two to The Haunting of Hill House, this new season reunites familiar faces to spin an entirely different tale about a majestic haunted manor and those ultimately affected by it.
Much like the first season with Shirley Jackson’s classic novel, Mike Flanagan and his production team have proven themselves masters and mistresses of storytelling this time mining the tales of prolific author Henry James to create something far greater than the sum of its parts.
The primary focus of the The Haunting of Bly Manor draws upon the The Turn of the Screw–arguably one of James’s most famous tales and certainly the most often adapted–which tells the story of a young governess named Dani (Victoria Pedretti) hired by a wealthy bachelor (Henry Thomas) to care for his niece and nephew, Miles (Benjamin Evan Ainsworth) and Flora (Amelie Bea Smith) at their sprawling, isolated ancestral home.
Once there, she meets a rather eclectic and somewhat eccentric staff including the manor’s maid Mrs. Grose (T’Nia Miller), chef Owen (Rahul Kohli), and gardener Jamie (Amelia Eve).
Almost immediately, strange events begin to occur and Dani soon realizes that surface life at Bly Manor is paper-thin and what goes on just beneath it is not only troubling but ultimately terrifying.
Flanagan is an incredible storyteller, and this series is no different. He painstakingly draws you into his world, introducing you to his characters and almost forcing you to care about their safety and well-being so that dread soon creeps into every moment of each episode. We don’t simply want these characters to survive. We want them to emerge whole and happy, but we know what kind of story this is and how very small the likelihood of a happy ending truly is.
Flanagan further filled out the story of Bly Manor by pulling in more than one of James’s stories to complete his tale. Those familiar with the author’s work will no doubt recognize The Jolly Corner and The Romance of Certain Old Clothes, but by making Pedretti’s governess character American rather than British, they were also able to dig into some of the author’s larger themes.
His stories often took place at intersections where characters from the older European world met characters from America examining the ways in which they contrasted. This is heightened in Flanagan’s version by moving the action of the story to 1987 making Dani a far different young woman than the governess in James’s original tale could be.
But, I digress. Back to Bly.
Ghost stories, much like stories about zombies or vampires or really any other scary horror creature, are almost always about something else. The Haunting of Hill House was about family. The Haunting of Bly Manor is ultimately about love and relationships.
Now before you skip out on me, understand that I’m not only talking about romantic love–though that certainly plays out here. This series is about the love between siblings, the love of caregivers for their charges no matter the age, unrequited love, and the ways in which those emotions tear us apart, change us for good and bad, and when mishandled can create monsters.
And while this season may lack some of the scares of the first, what it does perhaps even better than The Haunting of Hill House is create a sense of atmosphere and place.
Bly is real. Its residents are real. The dangers they face are real, and most importantly, the fear we feel for them is very, very real.
For their part, the cast of the series is quite amazing. Miller, Eve, and Kohli stand out in a season filled with great performances with their raw, subtle storytelling, conveying so much with a look or gesture. Ainsworth and Smith prove themselves as young actors to watch, with Ainsworth in particular presenting an unexpected maturity that can still give way to wide-eyed looks and reactions more fitting his age.
Oliver Jackson-Cohen also returns this season as Peter Quint, former driver and right hand man to Thomas’s character. I have seen this role played many times, but few have brought the complexity and emotional range the actor does here. It’s rather stunning to watch.
But in the end, it all comes back to Pedretti as Dani. One could easily argue that she was–in her own way–the heart of the first season, but she is undeniably so in the second. She comes to Bly Manor with a weight on her shoulders and we witness her adjust, carry, and manage it all so beautifully, throughout, even when she seemingly falls apart.
And of course, one can’t talk about The Haunting of Bly Manor without discussing the house itself. It is an absolutely stunning and painstakingly put together. It feels like a real place with halls that seemingly go one forever, creepy dolls that stare out from shelves and the confines of a lovely dollhouse, and corners just dark enough to make one wonder who or what might be lurking there.
The Haunting of Bly Manor is not for everyone, certainly. There will be those who will undoubtedly spend days talk about how boring it is, but for those who are open to classic, atmospheric ghost stories with well-written characters and masterful performances, this series is required viewing. You will, as I did, love every twist and calculated turn, but fair warning, you may be completely emotionally exhausted as the final credits roll.
My only question for Flanagan now, is what classic ghost story will you dig into next, sir?
Look for all nine episodes of The Haunting of Bly Manor this Friday on Netflix.