Why one was genius and the other fell flat.
It is November and while spooky season is well and truly behind us, a new lockdown and shorter days makes us desperate for a good old fashioned horror. In 2018, Mike Flanagan blessed us with The Haunting of Hill House: an incredible work of filmmaking which managed to be both scary and emotional. This year, the follow-up series The Haunting of Bly Manor hit Netflix and while this season has a completely different storyline and actors, we can’t help but compare the two. Because, where Hill House hit all the right notes, Bly Manor seems to just miss them every time.
Bly Manor, based on the classic Henry James story The Turning of the Screw, centres around the American Dani (played by Victoria Pedretti who also had a role in Hill House) who is hired as an au-pair for two, recently orphaned, children. After arriving at their grand mansion, we soon find out the place is haunted. Without spoiling anything (we try at least!), the story unfolds similarly to its predecessor, slowly revealing backstories of several of the characters. However, whereas Hill House manages to blend the past and the present perfectly together, Bly Manor’s attempts seem slow, drawn-out and confusing.
Initially, I didn’t quite know why I wasn’t as invested in this season as the last. After all, the actors are almost all brilliant, the cinematography is fantastic and there are again plenty of emotional and scary scenes throughout. But after comparing the two, the main reason seems to lie in the stories’ handling of character. In Hill House, our main focus is one family. We follow them through past and present and each episode focuses on the trauma of one of the children. While the season unfolds, we find out about their secrets and their fears, allowing us a deeper understanding of each person. The focus in the show is clear and by the end, we feel completely involved with every single character. The show ends up not just being an excellent horror, but also a deeply emotional depiction of grief and trauma.
Bly Manor starts of in a similar way, but the problem lies in the number of characters and their connection to each other. In Hill House, they are all family and their backstories are interwoven. In Bly Manor, the characters (apart from siblings Flora and Miles) are initially not involved in each others lives. The show therefore, has to explain not only each character’s individual trauma and past, but also their connection to each other and the house. This results in a confusing muddle of scenes and seemingly important plot points being dropped halfway through the show.
Bly Manor definitely isn’t all bad though: it still provides some very haunting (excuse the pun) and emotional scenes (with a very sweet queer romance at the forefront), and the strong performances help for an overall entertaining enough season. However, as a follow-up of a story that was so incredibly well put together and that brought a breath of fresh air in a genre that is so often cliched and tired, it sadly falls flat.