TV Critic Lauren Ramsden reflects on Netflix’s new supernatural horror series, and is fond of its emotional plot twists, stunning cinematography and acting
Mike Flanagan’s second instalment in the Netflix The Haunting Anthology, The Haunting of Bly Manor, is a gripping and thought-provoking follow up to its unexpectedly popular predecessor, exploring the story of a young, American governess (Victoria Pedretti) who is hired by a man to look after his orphaned niece and nephew at Bly Manor in rural England. There, she begins to experience the figures who haunt the premises.
Before I begin the review, I feel the need to disclose that I – shock, horror – have not watched The Haunting of Hill House. However, upon reading a number of reviews for Bly Manor that included words like ‘disappointing’ or ‘underwhelming’, I think my ignorance about the first season has aided in my viewing of the second season, being both thoroughly scared and creeped out for the majority of the nine-episode run time. Although, in saying that, this was not the type of ‘scary’ show I expected. A mixture of excellent acting, a great script and beautiful scenery made Bly Manor stand out from the bombardment of popcorn scream-fests we’re all used to seeing around Halloween.
The ensemble cast was, apart from the occasional dodgy accent (I’m talking to you, Kate Siegal), made up of some excellent talent. I often found myself shouting at the unsettling Wingrave children, Flora (Amelie Bea Smith) and especially Miles (Benjamin Ainsworth), whose odd behaviour created a compelling mystery about their relationship with the Bly ghosts. Victoria Pedretti plays their wide-eyed American au pair, Dani, and is a strong protagonist for the audience to cling on to as we get to know Bly and it’s workers: groundskeeper Jamie (Amelia Eve), resident cook Owen (Rahul Kohli) and the housekeeper Hannah Grose (the stand out of the show, T’Nia Miller, whose story in episode five is pitch perfect). There are more characters but none that stand out as much as this core six; the strongest scenes are when they are all together, showing off their chemistry and repartee whilst avoiding interactions with ghouls. Overall, their dramatic arcs, although not always fully realised and left cold in places, are engrossing and heart-breaking.
The first half of the series sets up the premise promptly, along with a growing sense of dread surrounding our protagonist, Dani, who seems to be haunted by a past figure, separate from Bly. This sets up a clear theme seen throughout the series of physical hauntings based in a singular place – Bly – and hauntings experienced by individual characters. Another interesting example is Owen, a character seemingly untouched by the goings on at Bly, and the stress surrounding his ill mother. This creates a relatable aspect to the show’s main theme of grief, playing on audience fears of loss outside of a supernatural context.
Despite this, the show is at its most effective when the unnerving setting is allowed to, metaphorically, shine. Praise must be given to whoever found the ‘great good place’ of Bly Manor, as it screamed an atmosphere of doom despite its gorgeous grounds. It felt as though there were unseen presences in every room, with the occasional spectre spotted in the background of the carefully crafted shots.
There is admittedly a slight slump midway in the series, making the slow pace up until this point clear, in a bad way. The penultimate episode is, unfortunately, also drawn out and, in its attempts to ‘explain’ the reasoning behind the haunting, further slows down the series to a screeching halt before the finale can speed it up again. This is also the episode in which Kate Siegal gets to show off her aforementioned horrible English accent, made only more obvious by the fact that she only had a handful of lines across the whole episode. I could deal with Flora repeating ‘perfectly splendid’ every five seconds, but an Early Modern land lady talking like an English version of Siri was painful.
Anyway, I largely enjoyed my experience at Bly Manor, and even loved it, at points. The slow pace and creepy atmospherics drew out the story at times, but to a satisfyingly emotional conclusion. Yes, fans of Hill House may not find it as scary as they had hoped (not that I would know), but the characters make the show what it is: a compelling story of love and loss. Perhaps this is one for the more sensitive souls? I’ll let the fans of Hill House decide.
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