(Warning: This review contains spoilers for Netflix’s The Haunting of Bly Manor)
The Haunting of Bly Manor, the follow-up to unanimously beloved The Haunting of Hill House, was the only thing horror fans could talk about all weekend. However, was it able to achieve the heights that Hill House did? Sadly, no. But that isn’t saying much seeing how flawless Hill House was. Bly Manor, in its own right, is still a captivating piece of gothic horror that deserves all the praise it gets.
A Different Kind of Haunting
Bly Manor explores more than one type of ghost, and it worked well for the series. This season doesn’t just reveal the characters’ trauma amid the supernatural. Rather, the memories that haunt characters are portrayed exactly like ghosts.
Two of the “ghosts,” including the one haunting Dani, the protagonist, aren’t supernatural. Rather, they are manifestations of the characters’ baggage, which perfectly captured the way their trauma left them with as much debilitating fear and pain as the actual ghosts could. The story of Dani’s ghost, especially, was impeccably woven into the story in a way that it wasn’t distinguishable from the manor’s horrors until we find out what it was telling us about the trauma that drove her to work at Bly in the first place.
Time and Memory
Bly Manor still incorporates the nonlinear nature of time and memory that was central in Hill House, but not nearly as strong enough. While the execution of this was flawless in episode 5, arguably the best episode of the season in which Hannah, the housekeeper, is confronted about the truth of her reality, it wasn’t explored as smoothly in the following episodes.
After the fifth episode, the various timelines in which the show is set is explored through a combination of characters getting “tucked away” into memories, sets of flashbacks, and even one entire – almost skippable – episode of pure exposition set in the 17th century. It made jumping from one time to the next more choppy and dragging compared to the seamless way different times blended into each other in Hill House.
The Horror Factor
While Hill House gave us several terrifying sequences that got us staying up at night (Has anyone really recovered from the basement scenes and that car jumpscare yet?), Bly Manor, on the other hand, is not nearly as scary.
However, while the horror in Hill House couldn’t be topped, Bly Manor still filled audiences with dread as we slowly learned more about the horrors the manor contained. Everything from Flora’s innocently ominous warnings to the unnerving silences that may or may not end in a ghost sighting worked perfectly to achieve the gothic horror story Bly Manor was trying to tell.
“It’s You. It’s Me. It’s Us.”
Bly Manor, like Hill House, is about family. The family that the characters found in each other after being torn apart from their biological ones was central to the story and was one of Bly Manor’s high points.
In the end, the narrator is told that this isn’t a ghost story but a love story. While this refers to the main romantic plot, it’s also very telling about the love all the characters had for each other. This is especially true considering that defining scene in the finale where Dani turns a tactic previously used as a way of control to a sacrifice born out of her love for the kids.
Leaving us with the message “every love story is a ghost story,” the way Bly Manor depicts how the people we love are all doomed to be ghosts (in one sense of the word or the other) will have you weeping by the time you’re done watching.