Netflix’s Haunting of Bly Manor is a puzzle box disguised as a ghost story.
The sequel to Netflix’s excellent horror series The Haunting of Hill House isn’t nearly as scary as its predecessor. The sequel, dubbed The Haunting of Bly Manor, is still about a house full of ghosts and people facing terrible pain.
And while those ideas may be terrifying on their own, that’s not really the point of the show. Instead, Bly Manor is more of a narrative puzzle box, one where ghosts and the afterlife are just another part of the mystery.
The new show has at least a few things in common with Hill House: a sprawling, haunted mansion; a cast of characters, each of whom faces some kind of pain or loss; and a premise loosely based on a classic horror story.
Haunting of Bly Manor IS IT WORTH IT?
Both stories are about families: at Hill House it is a traditional nuclear family, while at Bly Manor it is one that comes together through shared trauma. These things connect the two series. But it isn’t long before Bly Manor establishes its own flavor.
The show centers on Dani (Victoria Pedretti), an American living in England, who takes on a job as an au pair in a huge country mansion.
The job immediately raises some red flags: She is charged with caring for the recently orphaned children Flora (Amelie Bea Smith) and Miles (Benjamin Evan Ainsworth), whose previous caregiver also died.
Netflix made a puzzle
Meanwhile, the uncle who hired her refuses to visit the property, and the mansion also houses a cook (Rahul Kohli), a gardener (Amelia Eve) and a housekeeper (T’Nia Miller) who help take care of the stuff.
While Hill House primarily focused on one specific event, the death of the family’s mother, Bly Manor isn’t that straightforward. Instead, she slowly introduces new mysteries, stacking them on top of each other, until it almost becomes unbearable.
Here are just a few examples: the death of parents, the uncle’s refusal to visit Bly Manor, a housekeeper who seemingly travels back in time, a faceless ghost who roams the hallways every night, the debilitating fear of the au pair to the mirrors and Miles’ dramatic change in a troubled child.
Most of the episodes are structured like their own ghost story, either introducing or explaining something important. As in Hill House, the frights are limited, and the terror of Bly Manor is slow.
Most of the time you will see things like a ghost in the background or a child’s dolls that seem to have a life of their own. Flora’s blank expression is her own kind of horror. This continues for seven episodes.
Few of the mysteries are fully explained, so looking becomes a process of following through on the details and trying to see how they fit together. It can get confusing at times, especially later on when the show switches not only between different time periods, but also between the real world and memories.
It requires patience and faith that the program can really deliver satisfactory answers.
Victoria Pedretti shines
Part of what makes this slow and deliberate work work is the cast. Pedretti, in particular, is incredible, able to slip seamlessly between a warm caretaker and a tortured shipwreck. Even when nothing particularly scary was happening, the haunted look on her face uncomfortable.
In the meantime, I could spend hours watching the pranks between Miller and Kohli. Their will-they-not-they relationship is one of the few warm moments that helps tie the show together and turn its darkest moments into emotional hits.
It’s the kind of story where even the characters you start to hate have redeemable moments, in part because they’re so well cast.