After he tended to some unfinished business near Sidewinder, Colorado, Mike Flanagan headed across the pond, where the next season of his anthology program, THE HAUNTING OF BLY MANOR (2020), took up residence.
Back in 2018, Flanagan booked us a ten-episode stay at Hill House, and the accommodation was more than worth a sleepless night or two. An adaptation of the 1959 novel by Shirley Jackson, THE HAUNTING OF HILL HOUSE (2018) rendered any guest brave enough to see it through, spellbound, and established Flanagan as a vital voice in the golden age of horror.
A tough act to follow, Flanagan departed HILL HOUSE and subsequently hung his hat at the Overlook Hotel. The spiritual successor to THE SHINING (Stanley Kubrick, 1980), DOCTOR SLEEP (2019), wasn’t the box office smash he had hoped, but in room 237, Flanagan was able to clench his firm grasp of genre anatomy, a little tighter.
Loosely based on The Turn of the Screw by Henry James, which has been refashioned time and again – most notably, THE INNOCENTS (Jack Clayton, 1961) – BLY MANOR is more a fusion of his oeuvre than an outright conversion of the 1898 novella. With plot and persona peeled from The Romance of Certain Old Clothes and The Jolly Corner, the narrative of BLY MANOR is a somewhat seamless, moderately spooky, and altogether poignant gothic romance.
At the core of BLY MANOR is a love story that has echoed throughout eternity and ensnared countless. Set primarily in 1987, we latch on to Dani (Victoria Pedretti), an American abroad, hired by the shadowy Henry Wingrave (Henry Thomas) to be an au pair for his niece and nephew. Haunted by her history, Dani is sent to Bly Manor, a rural estate and character in essence, where she is to mind Flora (Amelie Bea Smith), and her older brother, Miles (Benjamin Evan Ainsworth).
Orphaned at a young age, the occasionally overdramatized Wingrave children inhabit BLY MANOR alongside their housekeeper, Hannah (T’Nia Miller), chef Owen (Rahul Kohli), groundskeeper Jamie (Amelia Eve), and the undead. Tormented by the loss of former governess, Rebecca (Tahirah Sharif), and a faceless figure, Dani and the help struggle to keep Miles and Flora in the land of the living.
If a ghost story is indeed scarier with a kid, THE HAUNTING OF BLY MANOR didn’t get the memo, but, then again, it isn’t a ghost story. “It’s a love story.” Connected in name only, HILL HOUSE and BLY MANOR couldn’t be more dissimilar, for better or worse. The terror of the Bent-Neck Lady and Tall Man done away with, Flanagan has crafted a slow-burn eager to offer more than a jump scare here and there.
Led by HILL HOUSE standout Victoria Pedretti, and a noteworthy turn from T’Nia Miller, BLY MANOR is able to overcome questionable brogue and endless exposition through emotional storytelling. With one hell of a skeleton in the closet and a fair amount of fright to be had, THE HAUNTING OF BLY MANOR is a “perfectly splendid” choice to binge-watch this holiday season.