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The Haunting of Bly Manor

****
2020

‘…creates a modern love story to classic ghost stories…’

Mike Flanagan seems to have arrived on cue to demonstrate that there’s life in old horror tropes. Following up his Shirley Jackson riff on The Haunting of Hill House, Flanagan is serving old wine in new bottles with his Netflix follow-up, perhaps, but he makes something so fresh and original, it would be churlish to complain. The Haunting of Bly Manor reaches back to Henry James and The Turn of the Screw, a classic tale recently bodged horrendously in The Turning, but Flanagan navigates the expected haunted-house clichés with skill, turning them inside out. In the way that Hill House links to Robert Wise’s The Haunting for inspiration, this one reaches back to Jack Clayton’s The Innocents, but again, Flanagan makes the material very much his own by using the original text as a jumping off point…

It was one of the few weaknesses of Flanagan’s Doctor Sleep adaptation that it revealed too much of the mystery of The Shining. That’s not a problem here, since there’s so many ambiguities to play with and develop, and Flanagan makes sure he has all the answers. Dani the nanny (Victoria Pedretti) is a US import to the UK in the mid-80’s, seeking her career-reboot at Bly Manor. The children behave strangely, the staff all seem to be covering something up, the fate of the previous nanny is unknown. Who was Peter Quint (Oliver Jackson-Cohen) and what became of him? What was Quint’s relationship to Mrs Jessell (Tahirah Sharif), and where is she now? And what is the origin of the malevolent spectral presence that haunts Bly Manor, and why does it exert such power over housekeeper Mrs Grosse (T’Nia Miller) and the other staff?

So many questions, but Flanagan methodically works through them, taking single lines from the texts and creating hugely imaginative leaps forward to explain the muddy footprints in the manor corridors; indeed, there’s an entire black and white episode set centuries back that explains how the malevolent entity was created. While some of the accents can be faulted, and the constant emphasis on the dream-scapes that the characters inhabit is confusing at times, The Haunting of Bly Manor is a great bit of home entertainment, short on jump scares but long on character and melancholy.

A love story and a ghost story may well be one and the same; Flanagan creates a modern love story to classic ghost stories, and while thrill-seekers may be disappointed, this is arguably the most inventive take on James’s story to date.

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  1. Mike Flanagan once again delivering the goods. It is not so much about the supposedly haunted house, as it is about the characters. Heartbreaking ending, by the way. Loved it

  2. A big part of what made this work for me was how they handled Viola. I was afraid the show would be ruined once they explained the mechanics of how ghosts work, but they managed to insert an antagonist so far from humanity that they were able to re-install the fear of the unknown in a way that worked. Though I admit it was pretty cheap that there was no real threat until we’re introduced to her.

    • Flanagan is great with the mechanics, and even though you might expect his approach to ruin the mystery, he gets it right here, and the more we learn about Viola, the better an adversary she is. Watch The Turning to see how badly this same story can be told…

  3. Are the characters annoying? I tried so hard to get through The Haunting on Hill House, but each character just irritated me beyond completing the series. I want to give this one a shot…

  4. A great review for a great show! I appreciate how you kept the air of mystery around the show whilst still managing to critique it and entice people to find out more by watching it.

    • Thanks! I like to read a review that doesn’t give the game away, but tells you just enough to make you interested. That’s part of what I’m trying to do, so thanks! I think this show was great, different to Hill House, but had a thing of it’s own for sure.

  5. My parents watched this one recently and like you were very positive about it. I have yet to see the other series as well. Ugh…I still haven’t gotten the go signal from my boss for that sabbatical. And well I still think it’s quite a reasonable request isn’t it?🤔🤔
    Seriously though….I will be watching this, as of course this is my cup of tea, but it might be a bit before I get to it🤔😊

    • Yes, I think your parents are right! I steamrollered my way through, but would happily go back because it’s some masterful storytelling; make sure that your boss understands the need for that in your life!

      • I had a conversation with her this afternoon. Her exact reaction was: “ You are nuts, and if you keep talking like this I’ll have to fire you” Granted that would solve the problem…but erm, not sure if I would like that🤔🤔🤔

    • Agree that the problem with Dr Sleep was to satisfy fans of the book and the film, but here, Flanagan has been given his head and created a whole different thing, which is very much his own rather than James…thanks for commenting!

  6. I’m intrigued. I didn’t much like the Netflix Hill House adaptation and gave up on it – it felt too stretched out and deviated from the novel too much in less interesting ways. But I’ve heard this sequel is different, more atmospheric gothic horror and fewer jump scares – some people prefer it, others dislike it. I love the Jack Clayton film and it’d be unfair to expect the TV series to be as good as the film, but it sounds like Bly Manor is definitely worth a watch, even (particularly?) for those like me who didn’t get on with the first series.

    • This IS different from Hill House, and I guess that’s why there’s a few dissatisfied customers. The Clayton film will always be there to go back to, but personally, I love the way Flanagan will take one idea or even a couple of lines from James and spin hours of tv from it. But be warned also, this is MORE sprawling than Hill House, and if you find that meandering annoying, there’s a lot of that here too. I think this is worth a shot even if you didn’t like the first one…

  7. No creepy movies for me. Jump scares or not, images get stuck in my head and then give me the heeby-jeebies for the next week or two. I will gladly leave this to those who can handle it and who enjoy it.

    • It’s complete, nine hour series, and if you can still get a free trial for Netflix, absolutely worth the watching…

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