Haunting of Bly Manor is an unexpected gripping drama wrapped in a horror veil. If you are familiar with the Haunting collection as it is titled on Netflix, you know it is a family drama with ghosts in creepy mansions. And white people saying hello in dark hallways when they hear noises they should be running from. Besides the obvious wypipo horror movie decisions, these series are captivating and have that classic horror character – jump scares and all. No worries, there are no spoilers to shield your eyes from in this review.
British Horror Story
From the first episode, we’re introduced to a familiar face. You might not recognize them, but our storyteller is played by Carla Gugino also known as our mother character Olivia Crain in Haunting of Hill House. Some more characters from our past begin to pop up, and at first it seems the two series are connected. Is this a fast forward into the future? Is this storyteller in some way related to the family who ignorantly wanted to flip an old mansion in the middle of nowhere? You find yourself yelling into the television once you realize several actors from Haunting of Hill House have been right in front of you this whole time. The series takes the American Horror Story approach. Actors return from the previous season but in newly donned roles and a seemingly unrelated storyline. This attempt is done so well, you almost barely notice. Henry Thomas, our father character from Haunting of Hill House, plays Uncle Henry Wingrave, and Victoria Pedretti formerly the youngest daughter in Haunting of Hill House, plays Dani Clayton in this season. As the story progresses you quickly get caught in the spellbinding home and eerie sensibilities of our characters.
We find ourselves in London this time around following a young American woman plagued by shadows. That sounds really cryptic but really the only way to describe it without giving anything away. Dani Clayton is looking to make a life in London but clearly fleeing from something in her past. We find ourselves at Bly Manor, a summer and vacation home for the Wingraves. Our protagonist (one of many) becoming an Au Pair (no idea what this was but apparently a young overseas caretaker for children) for the youngins of the estate. We have Flora Wingrave (Amelie Bea Smith, Peppa Pig) and older brother Miles Wingrave (Benjamin Evan Ainsworth) who are a bit off. I mean that in the sweetest and creepiest horror fashion. The way in which everything is “perfectly splendid” and they talk so proper you would think they are possessed.
First and foremost give these actors all the Emmy’s, give the writers all the Emmy’s. The subtle moments, small ticks, strong character choices and impactful writing stays with you from the first episode to the last. Lines like “The work in loving them is worth the pain of losing them.” SH** rip my heart out in the first scene why don’t you? The acting is superb from particular British and Scottish accents from American and British actors, to the intricate small oddities necessary to play these roles. Miles Wingrave (pictured above) makes you cock your head to the side too many times. Child actors are an enigma I will never quite understand… how do they do that? Flora is our young clairvoyant; yes, of course, there is always a little girl who can see ghosts. These ghosts are different. I implore you to always be looking in the background when watching each episode. If you think it’s a face, it probably is. If you think it’s a person but they keep disappearing, yup its a person creepily standing there in a scary ass outfit. Flora’s dollhouse is a key component in the scale and magnitude of these spirits. But as much as you believe this dollhouse may give a glance of what is in store, the story goes beneath the dollhouse, into the mortar, and all the way to the nooks and crannies of the attic.
Similar to Haunting of Hill House those hauntings of this home span across time. The spirits appear at random times, and the season may take a couple viewings just to figure out why they occupy certain spaces when they do. You are scared, but want to know more each time you notice a new doll in the dollhouse, or a new placement in a miniature room. There is something about these ghosts that are beyond scary and more chilling than anything. It isn’t about their appearance and presence that scares you. Their individual stories are unknown and eerie, making it frightening for layered reasons and dangerous because you want to discover more. They make you psychologically into the white lady grabbing a fire poker and heading out into the darkness to find out who that shadowy figure was.
The story compels you to dig beneath the covered furniture in the forbidden wing, and at the same time tell that white girl not to look under that cloth – and what you doing in the forbidden wing girl!? At the same time you are amazed at where the plot takes you when they don’t listen. The best part in all of this, (albeit a side story if it had to be labeled) is that of Mrs Grose or Hannah, a live-in housekeeper – but so much more than that: first a woman with impeccable style and grace.
But also someone who draws your eye and holds your heart. Hannah Grose is played by the incomparable T’Nia Miller (Years and Years). Her specific episode and storyline is a feat of cinematic structure and a mechanism of storytelling that emulates a mental break in time and format. It is masterfully composed, you cheer that it is a black woman, and you hold yourself for that same reason. Not much else can be said about this episode without spoiling it, but know it is masterful and a turning point for the show. This whole season operates in this fashion really, each story bringing you deeper into the writing and more enthralled with the performances. T’Nia is not the only brown person in Bly Manor and I am thankful. Although, it is of the horror genre so the odds for brown people is not always desirable, it is pleasing to see talented, brown people getting roles with depth and range such as this.
The ending could have been handled with a bit more verve and oomph but does not take away from the integrity and completeness of the season. You find yourself on a journey through toxic relationships, lies, love and deceit, a true story of a manor indeed. It doesn’t sound so much like a horror story when it’s laid out like this, but it is one of the most intriguing horror stories told in a long time.