With this year’s fall programming up in the air, horror fans longing for new content to scream at need search no further. Arriving just in time for the Halloween season is Mike Flanagan’s, The Haunting of Bly Manor, which is streaming now on Netflix.
Bly Manor is the follow-up to 2018’s hit horror, The Haunting of Hill House. Like its predecessor, The Haunting of Bly Manor is loosely based on a classic novella, this time drawing its inspiration from Henry James’, Turn of the Screw.
With this second outing, fans and newcomers alike can expect to begin on equal footing as the Haunting series has opted to evolve into an anthology, in lieu of returning as a continuation of its debut season. That is not to say that everything about the forthcoming chapter will be unfamiliar for returning fans. Alongside some new faces, such as iZombie’s Rahul Kohli, are some of Hill House’s key actors, who have returned to portray new characters, much in the tradition of fellow horror anthology, American Horror Story. As such, one should conclude that all bets are off when it comes to the outcome of each individual character.
Aside from a couple of jump scares, the anthology’s first episode refrains from the horror and action elements that were present in its inaugural season’s opener. Instead, viewers are treated to a healthy helping of tension and a side of unanswered questions. In general, Bly Manor’s premiere episode sets an intriguing premise, successfully hinting at a backstory worth exploring, while not giving away the goods all at once.
Before going into additional detail, from this point forward, those wishing to avoid spoilers of any kind should stop reading now and return after having finished the first episode, “The Great Good Place”.
The Storyteller’s Tale
The premiere opens on a generally happy scene; a wedding rehearsal dinner, an unreliable toast, and some unspoken family tension. Beyond that, not much is revealed. Who these people are, how they relate to each other, and the overall story in general, is yet to become clear.
Before we have much time to digest the information before us, we shift to an after-dinner party where, for some unknown reason, the guests begin to swap ghost stories. Enter Carla Gugino(The Haunting of Hill House, Gerald’s Game), whose character is simply credited as “The Storyteller”. The storyteller does what any self-respecting storyteller would, and begins to relate a tale that she expressly states is not her own. So begins the story within the story, about the titular Bly Manor and it’s haunted inhabitants.
The tale begins with Dani Clayton (Victoria Pedretti, The Haunting of Hill House), a young American in 1987 London, interviewing for a job as an Au Pair for Flora and Miles Wingrave, a couple of orphaned children. The children live at Bly Manor and have been overseen by a rotating door of appointed caretakers. Immediately, we are asked to ponder why a young lady would give up her life for one that would require a total abandonment of self. In contrast, we also learn that the job has been undesirable, and for the previous appointee, it resulted in death. Nevertheless, no sooner have these questions been raised is Dani whisked away from the city by Rahul Kholi’s Owen, Bly Manor’s chef, who has been appointed to deliver the Au Pair to her new home.
Upon arrival, everything seems perfectly splendid. Yet, one can’t help but feel a sense of unease, as if we have entered upon a scene that only moments before was anything but perfect or splendid. In addition to the two young children, we are introduced to Hannah Grose (T’Nia Miller, Sex Education), Bly Manor’s housekeeper. In addition to the housekeeper and chef, there is a mysterious gardener about whom we learn very little. What little information is divulged is presented as more of an afterthought. There certainly appears to be more than immediately meets the eye.
Dark Shadows and Hidden Pasts
It doesn’t take much time before it becomes clear that everyone has a past that they wish to keep hidden. Like, why does Hannah the housekeeper never eat or drink? Why was she staring so intently down the well in the Bly Manor garden? Why does Chef Owen always rush home so quickly? Who is watching Dani from out of the shadows? Why does young Flora Wingrave hide Blair Witch-esque dolls about the estate and gardens? Why does she along with her brother, Miles, lock Dani for what seems like hours inside a closet? What exactly are the Wingrave orphans hiding? And if those weren’t enough questions, who is the dark shadow that Dani sees reflected inside of mirrors?
The Haunting of Bly Manor has successfully set the stage for a new season of mystery, horror, and suspense. If the opener is anything to go by, we’ve only begun to scratch the surface.
Austen Miles is a husband, father, and writer. He can be found on Twitter: @austen_miles, and on Instagram: austenmiles.