REVIEW: ‘The Haunting of Bly Manor’ is more romantic than scary, and that’s OK


Amelie Bea Smith as Flora, Victoria Pedretti as Dani and Amelia Eve as Jamie in “The Haunting of Bly Manor.” Eike Schroter/Netflix

Bradley Hinkson

A haunted house is the most classic element of any horror story. As viewers, we want to learn the story behind it and find out whatever secrets it may be hiding. “The Haunting of Bly Manor” shows that the story behind a haunting doesn’t have to be inherently scary, but can be more emotionally resonant and even romantic.

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Loosely based on the novella “The Turn of the Screw” by Henry James, the series follows Dani Clayton, played by Victoria Pedretti, as she becomes an au pair to two children in London. When she arrives at Bly Manor, things are off. Muddy footprints are found daily, the kids are acting a little strange and Dani keeps seeing people who aren’t part of the staff around the property. There’s something occurring at Bly Manor, but what exactly is it?

It’s hard not to have this show’s previous series, “The Haunting of Hill House,” on your mind when watching this. Whether it’s because of many of the same actors coming back, or just our need to compare sequels or follow ups, “Hill House” will be in the back of your mind. The best thing to do? Don’t think about “Hill House” at all.

“The Haunting of Bly Manor” is a completely different entity from “The Haunting of Hill House.” While both series hit a very strong emotional core, each one takes a different route. While “Hill House” was a family drama that utilized the horror genre to reflect on each character’s trauma and how each spirit of the house impacted each child of the Crain family, “Bly Manor” gives us a story that weaves the supernatural with romance.

As the first few episodes of the series slowly build and introduce its characters and setting, which may prove too slow for some viewers, one might expect the series to take a more traditional route in its haunting, but it does anything but that.

Victoria Pedretti as Dani and Benjamin Evan Ainsworth as Miles in “The Haunting of Bly Manor.” Eike Schroter/Netflix

Bly Manor itself is a place where one’s worst memories are relived for both the dead and the living, whether it’s Dani reliving the painful memories of someone she loved or Mrs. Grose having a very strange sense of deja vu many times throughout the house. Memories are important to understanding “Bly Manor.” How we hold onto painful ones and how our memories of loved ones will keep them around even after they’re gone.

Once we become vulnerable and are able to share our pain is when we truly feel connected with someone. There’s no greater feeling than someone accepting you when you finally open yourself up. This is where the true beating heart of “The Haunting of Bly Manor” comes into play. Love and understanding are the most powerful things in this series.

Many of the characters in this show have suffered some kind of loss. Owen loses his mother, Miles and Flora lose their parents, and Dani loses her fiancé. While these characters may find connection with others in their pain and loss, all of them share the connection of dealing with their trauma. 

As we learn more and more about Bly Manor in the later episodes, we discover that pain and loss haunt the house more than any ghost. As we see in the last episode, the best way to break free from painful memories that you find yourself stuck in is to quite literally share them with someone. 

The best part about this is getting to see this vulnerability through a queer love story at the forefront. 

T’Nia Miller as Hannah Grose in “The Haunting of Bly Manor.” Eike Schroter/Netflix

While Mike Flanagan does return as sole creator of the show, including writing and directing the first episode, a new team of writers and directors joined Flanagan on this series. Flanagan’s style is still prevalent throughout the series, including his themes of grief and trauma and his knack for this sort of hazy atmosphere. 

Liam Gavin’s direction of “The Altar of the Dead” leaves the viewer in a rushed sense of disorientation, which is perfectly fitting for the episode all about Mrs. Grose’s unwell mental state. This episode is also highly elevated by T’Nia Miller’s excellent performance. 

While the show is filled with some top notch performances – Pedretti is wonderful and Benjamin Evan Ainsworth is extremely talented for someone so young – Miller comes out with the best performance of the series. She’s able to capture Grose’s pain through the unfortunate turmoil she finds herself in, but also gives her the right amount of heart to make her extremely sympathetic. She’s without a doubt my favorite character of the whole series.

“The Haunting of Bly Manor” isn’t the first adaptation of “The Turn of the Screw.” There’s the 1960 classic “The Innocents” that keeps the original story’s ambiguity to create a moody and genuinely terrifying film. Even this year there was “The Turning,” which should better be left forgotten. 

What makes this series such an exciting adaptation is crafting its own story of gothic romance by taking the bare basics of the original story and crafting its own. Anyone familiar with the story may be able to see where certain elements go, but will find excitement in the new direction it takes.

This series has its fair share of moody and atmospheric moments – the hallways of Bly Manor are effectively creepy – but it holds a big heart, one that might be larger than what we’ve seen in a lot of Flanagan’s other works.

While this new series may not hit the big highs that “Hill House” did, there’s no denying that “Bly Manor” is still able to stand on its own and deliver a story that surprisingly creeps up on you with its big emotional backbone. Just as we’re told in the last episode, this isn’t a ghost story — it’s a love story. 

Though, they’re the same thing really.