I absolutely loved The Haunting of Hill House when it was released on Netflix last year. I wanted a second season but knew that wasn’t possible since the story had a very satisfying ending. But I got to have my cake and eat it too, as The Haunting was later announced as an anthology series, with The Haunting of Bly Manor as the second season. Bly Manor was released last week and I’ve had a chance to watch it all now.
For starters, this isn’t your “typical” horror (if such a thing even existed in the first place). It’s subtle horror, with what happens in the background often far more terrifying than what’s right in front of you. It’s my favorite kind of horror (well, almost), as it feels more realistic than a lot of scary-for-the-sake-of-scary horror flicks.
Bly Manor is also multifaceted horror because it’s almost a horror story inside of a horror story inside of a horror story. Inside of a haunted house. There’s a lot going on here, and you really have to pay close attention to everything happening. In fact, once I figured out many of the key plot points, I already wanted to watch it a second time to catch the little things I missed the first go around.
It Starts Slow but Hits a High Note Around Episode 4
The story starts with a rehearsal dinner for a wedding. It’s unclear who’s getting married (at least to start), but it’s obvious there’s some history between a couple of the characters in the wedding party. It starts with a speech, then transitions to drinks and stories among people, when one woman speaks up and says she “has a story” but quickly notes that’s it’s not her story.
That particular bit can’t be overlooked, because it sets the tone for Bly Manor right out of the gate. From that point forward, this woman is the narrator of the story, and there a moments every episode or two to remind you of it with some voiceover. Save for one storyteller-driven episode, the story tells itself.
There are only nine episodes in the season, and you’ll spend the first few trying to get a feel for the characters in Bly Manor. There’s Bly’s inherited owner, Henry Wingrave; the housekeeper, Hannah Grose; the cook, Owen; the gardener, Jamie; Henry’s niece and nephew, Miles and Flora; and the American au pair that the story revolves around, Dani Clayton. Dani is, for all intents and purposes, the show’s main character. While those are the primary characters, backstory characters like Peter Quint and Rebecca Jessel are just as important to the overall story.
Each character is nuanced and complex, so you’ll also have to figure out what’s really going on with each of them. It’s established early on that Dani is running from something, but you’ll have to watch several episodes to figure out what that thing is. It’s also clear from the start that something is awry at the manor, but it’s unclear what it really is. If you watched Hill House, however, check your expectations at the door—this is a totally different type of haunting.
The first handful of episodes set the precedent for the show and then take a turn around episode four where you start to get some backstory. Various backstories continue through the next handful of episodes—including the anticipated backstory of The Lady of the Lake in episode eight—before it all comes to a conclusion in episode nine. The weaving of current story with backstory can be a little hard to follow at times (looking at you, episode five), but it becomes clearer as you approach the finale.
It’s a Story About Horror, but It’s Also About Love
One of the biggest complaints I heard about Bly Manor upon release was that it isn’t as scary as Hill House. That’s true to a point, especially as you get closer to the finale—it becomes less of a story about ghosts and hauntings and more of a story about people, relationships, emotions, and even love.
But that’s a big part of what makes Bly Manor special. Every character has a brokenness about them, which becomes a bond between them (even if they don’t realize it). They’re all very different people with very different stories, but the common thread that binds them all is pain. They ache because of loss in one form or another, but they find comfort in each other.
And the tale of pain isn’t just true for the living characters in the story, but also the dead ones. I’m not one to offer spoilers so I won’t go into detail there, but the storytelling throughout is heartfelt and genuine in a way that you don’t often find in most horror.
It’s Worth Watching but Isn’t without Its Own Issues
I really enjoyed The Haunting of Bly Manor, but as with most shows or movies, if you think about it long enough you’ll find little quirks throughout that don’t add up.
As you get lost in each episode, you’ll almost forget that it’s a story being told at a gathering, save for the occasional voiceover from the storyteller. But there are certain elements of the story that you have to wonder how the storyteller knew in the first place—things that were seemingly only known by one or two characters. There are also other details throughout that don’t quite add up, but I won’t mention these as to avoid spoilers.
These kinds of moments create small holes in the overall story being told, but hey—nothing is perfect. I didn’t find them jarring enough to break the overall flow of the story being told or the beauty held within the haunted walls of Bly Manor.
Nuanced or not, Bly Manor is an excellent watch that I wholeheartedly recommend not just to horror fans, but anyone who loves a good story and can handle just a slight amount of horror.