The Haunting of Bly Manor had great potential as an anthology series following The Haunting of Hill House from 2018. Yet, viewers are left confused rather than scared. 

Set in 1987 and loosely based on Henry James’ The Turn of the Screw, The Haunting of Bly Manor follows a young American, Dani Clayton (Victoria Pedretti), escaping a troubled secret in her past – taking a job offer as an au pair to two recently orphaned children at their ancestral, gothic-mansion home in the fictional English town of Bly. 

Dani is greeted by friendly staff – the housekeeper, gardener and the cook – and soon learns about the death of the previous au pair, Rebecca (Tahirah Sharif), and her toxic partner Peter (Oliver Jackson-Cohen).The first half of the season is slow; the siblings, Flora (Amelie Bea Smith) and Miles (Benjamin Evan Ainsworth), are traumatised by their parents death. Dani learns that Miles was expelled from boarding school and that Flora doesn’t want anyone walking around the house at night – all very slow foreshadowing of the haunted happenings that occur in the manor. 

The biggest downfall of the series is that there are just too many characters, and so too many side stories to tell. While you could argue that the series has great character development and all these secondary accounts are supposed to add background to the main plot, all it does is pile on storyline after storyline until it is confusing what the point even is. That said, the primary narrative is dull with minimal action, so it’s clear why all these side-stories were added. 

This is disappointing after The Haunting of Hill House was such a great success, a truly captivating and terrifying series. Bly Manor is bleak in comparison. It has the bare minimum of jump scares yet doesn’t create enough tension or frightening moments to be a compelling watch – making it a completely different approach to its predecessor. 

The Haunting of Bly Manor plays on the mental health issues and trauma of its characters. For example, the trauma in Dani’s past is vilified to be the reason for the haunted things going on in her life. This is not the case, she is just suffering with mental health issues as a result. Whether the show’s creators believe that Dani’s panic attacks and paranoia raise awareness of mental health or if they are just following the questionable trend of it becoming a convention in the horror genre is not clear, but it was not necessary to vilify her trauma.

On top of this, the toxic relationship between Rebecca, the children’s previous nanny, and Peter is romanticised; their blind love for each other leading to their deaths. The only positive thing about this series is the slight LGBTQ+ representation as a few of the characters, not to spoil one of the many storylines, are gay.

I wish I could say that The Haunting of Bly Manor is “perfectly splendid” – Flora’s rather annoying catchphrase – but its confusing plotlines, never-ending character list and lack of scares leave this series below-par for a horror; especially one with a great first season. 

2 stars 

Image Credit: The MovieDB

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