The Haunting of Bly Manor, Netflix review: a horror series that forgets to be frightening
Victoria Pedretti and Benjamin Evan Ainsworth in The Haunting of Bly Manor - Netflix
Horror, like comedy or synchronized dancing, either works or it doesn't. Nobody has ever gone to bed vaguely scared. While The Haunting of Bly Manor - a spiritual sequel to Netflix's 2018 hit The Haunting of Hill House - is well played and lavishly produced, it crashes at the first and only hurdle. It is nowhere near terrible enough.
How could that be? The Haunting of Hill House provided top-notch goosebumps and was that rare Netflix series that was remembered beyond the last few credits. The problem could be that the second time around, the writer Mike Flanagan is interested in creating a nuanced psychological thriller with Gothic staging. What interests him far less is to scare the Bejaysus out of the viewer.
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Flanagan is to be welcomed for his ambition. The resulting kind of entertainment, however, feels like a waste of the composite raw materials. These include an ominous house in the English countryside and a plot loosely inspired by Henry James' 1898 ghost story The Turn of the Screw. It's like putting Jason Statham in a movie and not letting him kick anyone in the face. You could sure do it - but for what purpose?
In James' Yarn, a governess receives more than she expected when she was hired to care for two troubled children in a draughty Essex mansion. Flanagan updates the action to the 1980s when American Dani Clayton (Victoria Pedretti) moved to London to escape personal trauma.
She takes a job at Bly Manor without realizing the grim fate of the previous governess. Friendships are made with the groundskeeper (Amelia Eve), the cook (Rahul Kohli) and the housekeeper (T'Nia Miller). There are also two creepy and incredibly irritating children, portrayed by Benjamin Evan Ainsworth and Amelia Bea Smith, aka the new voice of Peppa Pig.
T'Nia Miller as Hannah - Netflix
Dani wants to turn over a new sheet of paper and soon a romantic tension crackles between the nanny and one of the employees. Unfortunately, her past refuses to be buried. She is haunted by visions linked to a heartbreaking incident a few years ago.
Yours isn't the only tragic love affair. In flashbacks, we follow the doomed entanglement between her predecessor Miss Jessel (Tahirah Sharif) and Oliver Jackson-Cohen's Peter Quint, an oily, probable boy who goes after the Hoity-Toity owners of the manor.
This is where the real horrors are caused by Jackson-Cohen's Scottish accent jerk. Like Pedretti, he is part of the Hill House ensemble, which is working with Flanagan again. Another is Henry Thomas, the now middle-aged actor who portrayed Elliot in ET and appears as Henry Wingrave, Dani's employer and uncle with her minors.
What about the ghosts? These appear to be largely metaphorical and are used in the service of Flanagan's point of view that the spirit world is not nearly as terrifying as our own demons. It's a wise observation, but not a great horror festival. And when the ghosts do manifest at some point, they're boring and far from being creepy.
Amelie Smith as Flora - Netflix
Flanagan's formula for turning real-life trauma into a classic ghost story paid off cathartically at the Haunting of Hill House. This series coolly interwoven a family's darkest secrets with encounters from beyond the grave.
The nightmare factor was exacerbated by the ingenious means of pushing additional ghosts into the background. These were easy to miss. However, when you caught one in the corner of your eye, it was extremely worrying.
Flanagan repeated the gimmick on the new show, according to internet whispers. Yet despite all my gawking, I couldn't see any of these bonus ghouls. Which sums up the problems of Bly Manor - you stare and you stare, but the real horrors never show up.
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