Sommerleigh Pollonais – Horror Head Writer
You lovely readers of my horror articles will know I adored The Haunting of Hill House. I’ve seen numerous horror television series over the years and a good many of them still hold a fond place in my memories. But none of them, not a single one, can stand up to the perfection I saw when I happily immersed myself in Mike Flanagan’s supernatural drama of a family bereft by grief and haunted by ghosts, both figurative and literal.
When I heard Flanagan would once again be inviting us to visit another haunted house (or in this case, a manor), calling me excited would be the understatement of the year! So did The Haunting of Bly Manor live up to my expectations? You tell me.
Here are my TOP 5 REASONS TO WATCH THE HAUNTING OF BLY MANOR:
#5 It’s the Best Version of The Novella, The Turn of the Screw, I’ve Ever Seen
The Turn of the Screw is an 1898 horror novella written by Henry James. And, like most great classic literature, it has been adapted numerous times as radio dramas, stage plays, television shows and yes, even films. The most recent adaptation was 2020’s The Turning, starring Stranger Things’ Finn Wolfhard. Don’t worry if you’ve never seen it though, as it was panned by critics (including myself) and isn’t worth the effort.
Thankfully Mike Flanagan (one of the best modern-day horror filmmakers out there) knows how to weave a supernatural tale, and his talents are once again on full display here. He takes this classic tale about an au pair who is hired to look after two young children, Miles and Flora, only to realise strange and sinister forces inhabit their world and their home, Bly Manor, and he modernises it without losing focus on the most important aspect of the story – the characters.
This version of Bly Manor evokes the gothic horror of yesteryear with an atmosphere full of dread, fear and horror. Flanagan doesn’t need cheap jump scares to chill you to the bone. No, he just gets you to fall in love with his wonderful characters. Characters you’re so invested in, you will fear for them as if they were your very own friends and family. THIS is how you do an adaptation right!
#4 Not a Character is Wasted
As I stated before, Flanagan takes great care to develop his characters, and within the walls of Bly Manor there isn’t a person whose story doesn’t pull you in. My personal favorite was Mrs Hannah Grose (T’Nia Miller), the loyal housekeeper of the manor. Episode 5 “The Altar of the Dead” deconstructs her story and I’m not ashamed to say, I was on the verge of tears by the end of it. But Hannah isn’t the only engaging character here, not by a long shot. I would argue each and every one of the unlucky residents at Bly Manor have well-developed backstories that are expertly acted out by the performers.
Victoria Pedretti (You Season 2) as Dani Clayton, Oliver Jackson-Cohen (The Invisible Man) as Peter Quint, Kate Siegel (Hush/Oculus) as Viola Willoughby, Henry Thomas (E.T. the Extraterrestrial) as Henry Wingrave, and Carla Gugino (Watchmen, Gerald’s Game) are all actors who appeared in The Haunting of Hill House, but return here as different characters. It speaks volumes to their skills as actors that this is the case. Yes, Kate Siegel is the real life wife of Mike Flanagan and usually acts in his films, but trust me, she has talent all her own, and not just when it comes to acting, as she also co-wrote a couple of his other fantastic horror films Ouija: Origin of Evil and Gerald’s Game.
I loved villain and hero alike in Bly Manor. Living OR Dead. That should tell you all you need to know about how wonderfully made these characters are.
#3 Ghosts Ghosts Everywhere!
I remember watching The Haunting of Hill House (I will never tire of talking about this series!) and one of the most chilling aspects of it was spotting the ghosts that inhabit the house, eerily appearing in the background of the scenes. It wasn’t done in an obvious way and because of this, seeing them felt like you had seen something that shouldn’t be there. It was chilling and exciting all at once. I saw reviews that talked about there being at least a hundred ghosts to find, which shocked me (and here I was feeling cocky because I found so many) and made me instantly want to re-watch the entire series again.
Bly Manor also has its share of “uninvited guests” although this time, I definitely feel I spotted most of them (wait and see I guess). The only downside for me was, unlike Hill House, I was expecting this, so it didn’t quite pack the proverbial punch it did the first time around.
That said, I still enjoyed playing Ghostbusters while watching the episodes and they never felt like a gimmick. The spirits have as much a story to tell as the living residents of Bly Manor, and seeing them only makes the mystery of what happened to them all the more tantalising.
#2 Why Choose Substance Over Style When You Can Have Both?
While Bly Manor is most definitely a gothic-styled horror series, there’s this wonderful timelessness to the way Flanagan shot it. I found myself pausing at some moments to remind myself what timeline these events were occurring in. This fits beautifully with the house itself, as time isn’t truly linear at Bly Manor. The past and the present can collide into a horrific mix of confusion and wonder. Confusion for the people living there and, by extension, the viewers watching. It makes you feel a bit disconnected but in the best way possible, like you’re in a dream, where up is down, left is right and at any moment, even the happiest lives can be over.
Was Flanagan deliberately making a metaphor about the fragility of life and love? I most certainly think so.
#1 Bly Manor is Not Hill House
It would’ve been so easy to just repeat what was done with The Haunting of Hill House. Critics praised it, fans loved it, and, as horror series go (say it with me), it’s near perfect! But that’s not what Flanagan did here.
While both stories are about haunted places, the similarities stop there. Well, at least they did for me. Hill House was a story of grief and guilt. What it does to you, what it does to those you love, and the importance of forgiveness and letting go. While Bly Manor also shares some of these motifs, for me it was more a tale of regret. Opportunities lost because a character refuses to let go of a lost relationship (Mrs. Grose), or be true to who they really are (Dani), or face up to their past sins (Peter Quint), or stay in an abusive relationship (Rebecca/Ms Jessep). One of the worst pains a person can carry, is regret. To look back on your life and think “I could’ve/should’ve done things differently.” And at Bly Manor, regret lives in every room, every staircase, every hall, haunting its inhabitants, forcing them to relive that pain, until the end of time.
So did I enjoy The Haunting of Bly Manor? I think you can tell I did. It didn’t chill me to the bone the way The Haunting of Hill House did, but I think this had to do with the fact I was very familiar with the novella and most of the movies based off it. Overall, I think Mike Flanagan delivered a beautiful follow up to Hill House and I for one would happily visit another haunted location, if he’s the one sending me the invitation.
For more of my thoughts on Flanagan you can check out my Top 5 Modern Horror Directors ranking by clicking here. And for more than 100 horror reviews and lists you can check out the RMR horror section here.
Sommerleigh of the House Pollonais. First of Her Name. Sushi Lover, Queen of Horror Movies, Comic Books and Binge Watching Netflix. Mother of two beautiful black cats named Vader and Kylo. I think eating Popcorn at the movies should be mandatory, PS4 makes the best games ever and I’ll be talking about movies until the zombie apocalypse comes.
Double Tap Baby!