The Haunting of Bly Manor is the spiritual sequel to Netflix’s The Haunting of Hill House. It is loosely based on Henry James’ novella, The Turn of the Screw. In it, Dani, an American struggling with some past life event, has traveled to England to find work and escape her past. She comes across a job to care for two children in a countryside manor after their parents have unexpectedly died. The manor itself, unknown to the adults of the story, is haunted, and a ghostly woman roams these halls with vengeance. The Haunting of Bly Manor review will contain MAJOR SPOILERS.
The Haunting of Bly Manor begins with a captivating set-up: the au pair Dani is plagued by visions of a man with glowing eyes. She begins caring for the children, Flora and Miles, as she begins to slowly realize something is off about them and the house. There is a creepy dollhouse, talismans that evoke a voodoo-like feel, and muddy footprints lining the halls nearly every night. The other employees of the manor are unique and initially provide amazing character and personality to the house and to the show. Hannah is motherly and kind, Owen is comforting and witty, and Jamie is serious and tender. But unfortunately, after the first two episodes of decent exposition, the show falls apart.
It begins exploring past and present relationships. Dani needs her tragic back story, so the creators give it to her in a way only meant to draw out this tragedy, and nothing else. The soon-to-be couple (her and Edmund) have few interactions, and the interactions they have show almost nothing important. The show focuses more on Dani’s bond with her future mother-in-law than with Edmund. This ends in the breakup and immediate death of Edmund when he is struck by a delivery truck stepping out of the car. Not only is this death completely expected from the moment they’re in the car, but it is cliché and almost hilarious in how bad the death looks. A similar trend is found in the other relationships explored. Rebecca and Peter feel rushed and impossible to believe, the episode eight backstory relationships feel beyond simplistic to a fault, and the only relationship worth anything (Owen and Hannah) is barely given any exploration other than the all too repetitive interview scene.
And then comes the filler. The show could have been two or three hours, not eight-plus. But it seemed like they needed a full-length mini-series in order to get approval. So what did they do? Endless filler. They started by incorporating ridiculous monologues like Jamie’s moonflower speech, which felt like it took ages to end and was filled with over-the-top sappiness, platitudes, and corny dialogue. They filled it with the concept of memory, which is such an interesting topic, but to do it they had the characters reliving the exact same moment over and over, with almost no distinction from the first, the second, or fourth time. And that is not to say that every memory was unimportant, because some like Hannah’s final memory were. But when Peter is arguing with his mom for the third time, or Rebecca and Peter are once again taking pictures and nothing is seemingly changing, it becomes apparent that the creators needed to fill the time.
Then episode eight happens. Actually, at the end of episode seven, I stated out loud that I hope we got some backstory or reason why the lady of the lake is terrorizing the manor. But this is not what I meant. Episode eight is the info dump to end all info dumps; the filler to end all filler; the backstory we did not need. It told every detail about the lady of the lake’s (Viola’s) life. It gives us a setting that tries to look like 14th-century England but gives actors failing to give any sense of this time period as they move among props that look cheap. The story is so simple and ultimately ends up letting us know that the lady of the lake is here because she was wronged and because she refused to speak her Christian death rights. It adds nothing else to the story. There is no depth to the characters, no thematic connections to the main plot that haven’t already been stated (or over-stated), and, like the previous four or five episodes, has taken us so far away from the focus of Dani and other characters that there is no longer any reason to care.
But I guess the show is not all bad. If you take away the unnecessary framing story, the annoying time jumps, the camera shots that somehow always looked like sterile CGI, the awful sappy dialogue, the poorly shot death scenes, and the single-note tragic backstories, then the story itself is at least sometimes fun to watch. I enjoyed a few of the episodes and even some moments of episodes that I didn’t like. I thought Hannah and Owen were amazing characters (who deserve their own show) and the final episode finally made me care about Dani and Jamie’s relationship. Also, even despite people complaining that the season wasn’t scary enough, that was not an issue for me. The season did not set out to be a horrifyingly scary story but instead decided to explore a more human story with the background of a haunted house. But, with how the show went, maybe they should have stuck with jump scares.
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