Mike Flanagan’s ‘Bly Manor’ fails to live up to its predecessor, ‘Hill House’

Sunday, October 11, 2020 - 6:12pm

NOSELL

Netflix

When fans first watched “The Haunting of Hill House” in late 2018, they were in for a wild ride. The show balanced truly terrifying moments with superb storytelling, taking the average ghost story and twisting it to create a groundbreaking work in horror. Thus, it came as no surprise that there was so much early enthusiasm for Mike Flanagan’s follow-up “The Haunting of Bly Manor.” But unlike “Hill House,” “Bly Manor“ fails to leave the impact of its masterful predecessor.

“The Haunting of Bly Manor” focuses on Dani Clayton, played by the “Hill House” star Victoria Pedretti (“You”), who finds work as an au pair for two young children in a sinister manor in the English countryside. The story also follows the perspectives of the workers at Bly, including the gardener, governess and cook. Each episode chronicles the events of a day at the Bly Manor, as the morbid history of the house is revealed piece by piece.

Unlike “Hill House,” “Bly Manor” is not centered on a nuclear family. Instead, its focus is on a hodgepodge of locals who all happen to work together at the manor. Like in “Hill House,” each character has their individual trauma, which manifests as the ghosts that literally and figuratively haunt them. But while all the characters in “Hill House” have shared trauma that comes from their experiences as a family, the characters in “Bly Manor” each come with their own baggage, almost completely unrelated to each others’. Instead of a single, well developed plot thread to keep track of, “Bly Manor” forces the audience to shift their attention with every new scene. Ultimately, “Hill House”’s greatest strength is “Bly Manor”’s greatest weakness. With so many different plot threads to keep track of, it’s much harder for the audience to remember, much less be moved by the show.

In addition, “Bly Manor” is frankly not that scary. The “monsters” in the show are much less scary both visually and metaphorically. As an example, one of the key monsters in the show is an ex-boyfriend of Dani’s. Compared to the “bent-neck lady” and the “tall man” of Hill House, the ghosts of Bly Manor are simply much less intimidating than the horrifying visage of a ghost with a broken neck and a seven-foot tall shadow man. Clips of the most memorable jump-scares were what gave “Hill House” all the buzz. Without any truly memorable scares, “Bly Manor” just feels forgettable.

That isn’t to say the show is all bad. As is the standard in Mike Flanagan’s work, “Bly Manor” is extremely well made. Each scene is completely different from its predecessor. Another huge boon for the show is the diverse and talented cast. Despite not being related by blood, each character has a chemistry with the others that really adds to the story.

But despite these strengths, “Bly Manor” feels like the forgettable second season of “Hill House.” Both the mechanics and setup of “Hill House” rely on in its predecessor, but without the focus on the nuclear family, this show feels more muddled and forgettable. Your Halloween would be much better spent rewatching “The Haunting of Hill House” than watching “The Haunting of Bly Manor.”

Daily Arts Writer Joshua Thomas can be reached at realjt@umich.edu.


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