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Wednesday, May 29, 2024

A perfectly splendid review of ‘The Haunting of Bly Manor’

Things don’t have to terrify us to haunt us for a long time

At least once in an individual’s life, the thought of fleeing to a new country might have crossed their mind, maybe to escape the difficulties of everyday life. 

In Mike Flanagan’s highly anticipated follow-up to the incredibly enthralling “The Haunting of Hill House,” “The Haunting of Bly Manor’s” main heroine Dani does just that.

Set in the 1980s, the show follows Dani (Victoria Pedretti) leaving America to run from the trauma of her past and become an au pair in England, subsequently landing a job taking care of two orphans in a vast, beautiful estate in the English countryside. 

Her employer, the seemingly incredibly wealthy Lord Wingrave (Henry Thomas) explains that the manor comes along with a cook, housekeeper and gardener. Dani’s only job is to take care of the children. 

Maybe it was a suspiciously sweet deal by itself—it would be natural to throw in a couple hauntings here and there. Otherwise, the job would be like hitting the jackpot—no cleaning, no cooking, simply taking care of children.

While “The Haunting of Hill House” was based off of Shirley Jackson’s novel of the same name, “The Haunting of Bly Manor” was inspired by Henry James’ 1898, “The Turn of the Screw.” Yet Flanagan swaps corsets and Victorian wear for high-waisted jeans and suspenders by setting the story up in the ‘80s.

In a Netflix behind-the-scenes clip Flanagan explains that, “Hill House is about a very tight family, and Bly Manor is about strangers, a family that is created.”

To no one’s surprise, it turns out that things are not as picture perfect as they seem. We get a sense of the creepiness that follows the moment we meet the orphans. 

Miles (Benjamin Evan AInsworth) and Flora (Amelie Bea Smith) are too posh, even for upper-class English children, and Flora’s frequent repeating of the phrase “perfectly splendid” leaves the viewer with a sense of discomfort. 

We cannot forget about the mention of the children’s previous au pair Rebecca (Tahirah Sharif) who died on the grounds six months prior to Dani’s arrival. The question of what happens to her looms in the air, contributing to the mysteries hidden in Bly Manor. 

There are many narratives that Flanagan juggles throughout the nine episodes, and many different threads that he ties together by the end of it. We see the trope of a found family among the Bly workers play out nicely in the nine-hour Netflix original series. 

There is the housekeeper Hannah (T’Nia Miller), who is thoughtful and melancholic. We see Owen (Rahul Kohli), a chef training in France brought back to his hometown to take care of his mother, always ready to make eye-roll inducing puns and would gladly let you taste test his meals. The heartfelt gardener Jamie (Amelia Eve), though slightly distant at first, becomes increasingly important to Dani as the story goes on. 

When discussing Bly Manor, Flanagan stated that he wanted to use “Ghosts as expressions of emotional wounds that we do carry around.” Without any spoilers, this sentiment is addressed beautifully in the show. 

“The Haunting of Bly Manor” nails the nature and purpose of grief, and shows how it shifts and changes people from the inside out. Yet it does it in such a way that the audience is left with a sense of satisfaction, and maybe even a little sadness. 

Although “The Haunting of Bly Manor” isn’t as scary as “The Haunting of Hill House”—there are less jumpscares and not as many ghosts and ghouls lurking in the shadows—the emotions felt by the characters showcased throughout the episodes are what gives the show its haunting nature.

It is the way people let grief overcome them or be consumed by the playback of their traumas that is the truly scary part. We see how the characters are trapped in their own lives, and cannot escape the gravity of their traumas and memories. 

Flanagan does an excellent job conveying the struggle of letting go, through means of absolution, acceptance and forgiveness. 

Even though “The Haunting of Bly Manor” might not be as scary, the tale and lessons learned lodge themselves in one’s mind, making them hard to forget. It personifies emotions through ghosts and reminds us that stories, like people, do not have to terrify us to haunt us for a long time. 

Written by: Muhammad Tariq — arts@theaggie.org


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