The Haunting of Bly Manor

The brand new Netflix follow up to their wildly successful The Haunting of Hill House, is a creepy and deeply unsettling series that is definitely worth checking out. At least as far as I’ve seen.

Back in 2018, Mike Flanagan and Netflix unleashed a seriously good adaptation of Shirley Jackson’s novel The Haunting called The Haunting of Hill House. It was terrifying, and deeply sad as a family deals with the trauma of living in a haunted house. The series was a big hit, so Netflix and Flanagan teamed up again to give us The Haunting of Bly Manor loosely based on Henry James’ novella The Turn of the Screw.

I have only seen the first three episodes so far. This review will only be covering the first third of the show. I will be adding reviews of the rest of the series as I see it.

The story follows Dani, played by Victoria Pedretti, an American who moves to Britain to escape her past. She becomes the au pair of a couple of odd children who live in the titular Bly Manor. Sadly only the first episode is directed by Mike Flanagan who is one of the great living horror directors. After incredible films like Hush, Gerald’s Game, and Doctor Sleep, Flanagan can do no wrong. He has a terrifying sensibility and a steady hand as a director. He uses film perfectly to craft a scary sequence. The plus side is that the second and third episode seem to be following his style. No jump scares and forced horror action, just the slow burn building sense of dread that Flanagan lays out in the first episode.

As Dani settles into the house and her role as au pair, she begins to discover the dark history of the house and the horrible events that befell the children under her tutelage. The children are Flora and Miles. Flora, played by Amelie Bea Smith, at first seems like a terrible actress, but that is soon revealed to be the stilted awkwardness of Flora. She has been through a lot and endured horrors. Of course she’s going to be weird. her performance at first seems rough, but is revealed slowly to be much more nuanced than it first appears. Miles on the other hand is a horrifying little kid. He’s played by Benjamin Evan Ainsworth, and he seems to be either 50 years old or 5 depending on what’s happening. The kid pulls off this transition with startling effectiveness. If I met him in person, I’d say he’s the weirdest kid I ever met. In this show, he’s just a thrilling and unsettling character, and I can’t wait to see where he goes in the rest of the series.

The nice thing about Hill House and now Bly Manor is that they feel like movies. They are made with the same attention to detail and craft that films are made with. Every shot is intentional. Every moment builds organically. Each episode is a different length depending on the requirements of the story not the edicts of the studio. What’s most fun is that the first three episodes reward eagle eyed viewers. Seriously, keep an eye out for the corners of the frames. Objects in the background and foreground might mean more than they appear. It’s this kind of intentional framing and filmmaking that makes horror movies so exciting.

I’m only three episodes in, but I’m really enjoying it so far. The first film has so many wonderful little moments. Most of which land without a loud musical cue or jump scare. The power of the image itself and the rising tension take care of it. The second episode has some unsettling story elements that stick to the ribs. The third is less scary. It’s more backstory and buildup, however even the back story episode ends with an incredible punch. There’s a lot to like here. However, I remain cautious. There are a lot of episodes left, and it could easily fall apart at any moment.

So far, The Haunting of Bly Manor is my cup of tea. Ep. 1: A Ep. 2: B+ Ep. 3: B+

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