Netflix’s “The Haunting of Bly Manor” offers audiences a slow-paced love story, rather than an expected chilling ghost tale.
Series creator Michael Flanagan returns with the second installment of Netflix’s horror anthology, “The Haunting of Bly Manor.” Released on Oct.9, Bly Manor follows up the hit series “The Haunting of Hill House,” with a less terrifying ghostly love story.
Bly Manor begins in 2007 with a ghost story told by Carla Gugino the night before a wedding inside an old manor — think Princess Bride, but with ghosts. Set in 1987, the story centers around bright-eyed Dani Clayton, played by Victoria Pedretti, previously Nell in “Hill House” and Love Quinn in the Netflix series “You”. Leaving her American home, Clayton takes a job in London from the wealthy Henry Wingrave, played by Henry Thomas. Clayton finds herself at Bly Manor as an au pair for his recently orphaned niece, Flora (Amelie Bea Smith), and nephew, Miles (Benjamin Evan Ainsworth).
From the first episode, something seems off at Bly Manor. Before arriving, creating a rather ominous foreshadowing, the driver tells Clayton, “The whole town’s a big gravity well. It’s easy to get stuck.” The recent developments at Bly – including the death of Flora and Mile’s parents and tragic drowning of the last au pair – continue to build on the already menacing tale.
Flora’s overuse of the phrase “perfectly splendid,” a catchphrase used by the former au pair, and Miles’ grownup and know-it-all attitude built a horror of its own. Clayton is haunted by her past and fears looking into the mirror, which leaves an ominous tone hanging over the already dreadful estate.
Despite hints of horror, “Bly Manor” lacks the same haunting and terrifying imagery of its preceding series, instead offering audiences a slow burn of backstories that creates a saga of love, death and grief.
In true gothic romance fashion – told in flashbacks – “Bly Manor” explores the feelings of love and tragedies within the characters. Flannagan intricately crafts the backstory of each character residing within the gloomy halls of the manor — but at a dreadfully slow pace.
Finally picking up the pace, the latter half of the series transcends through time, using each remaining episode to tell a character’s back story. While well-written, watching the backstories requires a great deal of concentration leaving viewers wondering if they are watching the past, the present or a fever-dream.
Flannagan tries to give the characters reasons for their actions through monologues and plot. While his attempt does have a way of pulling in audiences with each of the character’s psychological traumas, it ends up as an array of disjointed storylines. Through love stories and rich character development, a warm glow is added to a rather complicated saga built on an array of disjointed storylines.
Though confusing at times, the cast’s performances pull in audiences to continue watching. Despite Clayton’s constant state of worry and surprise, Pedretti is able to harmoniously intertwine her role as an affectionate caregiver and tortured soul. The real standout performance, however, is from the children.
Smith and Ainsworth are able to encapsulate the troubled siblings seamlessly, both pulling off their creepy yet charming characters with ease.
Despite the series’s vain efforts to create scenes worthy of leaving you hiding behind a pillow, “Bly Manor” offers little to scare or engage the audience. Other than the occasional faceless Lady of the Lake or the mystery man who appears in the forbidden wing of the house, “Bly Manor’s” lackluster attempt at horror results in more of a haunting love story.
While “Bly Manor” failed to overcome the spine-chilling effect “Hill House” created, audiences are left with a slow-paced ghostly love story. Through each aimless character backstories, Flanagan’s attempt to create a both ghost story and a love story unfortunately falls short in both genres.
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 86%
Traveler Score: B