Considering the horrifying plot twists and satisfactory payoff of “The Haunting of Hill House,” “The Haunting of Bly Manor,” the second installment of Mike Flannagan’s horror anthology, feels a bit disappointing and ultimately falls short. A theme running through reviews of Netflix’s new horror series is that it is simply not as scary as its predecessor. Despite not being as horrifying as “The Haunting of Hill House,” horror is subjective, which encouraged me to try to give Flannagan’s second installment a chance. However, the miniseries is a confusing mess and attempting to understand it while watching felt futile.
Based loosely on Henry James’ “The Turn of the Screw,” the miniseries takes place in the 1980’s London with a lawyer named Henry Wingrave (Henry Thomas) who hires an American nanny, Dani Clayton (Victoria Pedretti), to take care of his young niece and nephew, Miles (Benjamin Evan Ainsworth) and Flora (Amelie Bea Smith), whose parents have died. Soon, Dani is off to Bly Manor, the residence where Flora and Miles live, and becomes familiar and friendly with the rest of the staff: the chef, Owen (Rahul Kohli); the groundskeeper, Jamie (Amelia Eve); and the housekeeper, Mrs. Grose (T’Nia Miller).
The subplots throughout the miniseries are confusing and once it finally clicks, the payoff is simply unrewarding. Almost every resident of Bly Manor gets their own episode with their backstory and episode five, “The Altar of the Dead,” which focuses on Hannah Grose’s backstory, is one of the most confusing of them all. The episode wades through a dream and memory landscape, and the timelines jump without an explanation. While everything does finally click towards the end, simply trying to make sense of the timeline and dream hopping that Grose undergoes throughout the 54 minute episode is draining and unenjoyable.
In comparison, “The Haunting of Hill House” manages to tell the story of the Crain family by jumping through time but the series weaves elegantly through the timeline of the Crain family, keeping the audience engaged and on the edge of their seat while “The Haunting of Bly Manor” fails to do so.
“Hill House” however, manages to dedicate almost entire episodes to a member of the Crain family that engages audiences in a way that “Bly Manor” just does not do effectively. Instead, audiences are left confused and underwhelmed by the characters, their stories and the horror they face.
The plot and facts of the show are also inconsistent and at odds with each other. There’s two different realms in “The Haunting of Bly Manor,” the ghost world and what’s real. The rules for these two realms and the way they intertwine however, don’t add up. Some ghosts can touch, some ghosts can’t, some of the ghosts fade away, some lose their face and some don’t. While many might say that Flanagan weaves an intricate and complex story, it instead feels like a puzzle piece that doesn’t quite fit together.
“The Haunting of Bly Manor” is also just simply not scary. While horror is subjective, I found myself thoroughly underwhelmed by this horror story. In contrast, its predecessor “The Haunting of Hill House” often left me reeling and in shock long after watching. The imagery “Hill House” employs, the sight of the bent neck lady and the ultimate plot twists were some of the most horrifying imagery in television. The ultimate reveal that Nell herself is the bent neck lady and was haunting herself the entire time was one of the most shocking, chilling and devastating twists in television and film combined. This one revelation alone makes “The Haunting of Bly Manor” simply pale in comparison to its predecessor. It’s almost insulting to compare the reveal of the bent neck lady to the reveals in “Bly Manor” or to the reveal of who the glowing eyed man haunting Dani is because these reveals in “The Haunting of Bly Manor” are so underwhelming that they pale in comparison.
“The Haunting of Bly Manors” own shocking twists and turns merely don’t live up to the ones of “Hill House.” While it may seem unfair to compare the two, considering they are each presented as standalone mini series, “The Haunting of Hill House” is one of the best Netflix original shows while “Bly Manor” is just okay. Seeing as they are from the same creator, I went into the show with high hopes and expectations. Instead, the miniseries is plagued by what it is lacking in comparison to “Hill House.” It lacks a sense of impending dread, devastating twists and turns, horrifying images that plague audiences and episodes that you will remember long after you watch them. “The Haunting of Bly Manor” can’t escape from the shadows of “The Haunting of Hill House” and instead the series falls into a mess of confusing memories and hallucinations that guide audiences through a labyrinth that is not worth exploring.
Verdict: While “The Haunting of Bly Manor” attempts to escape the shadow of “Hill House,” it instead leaves audiences stranded with a confusing plot, an unsatisfactory ending and a disappointing lack of horror. “Hill House” provides the map on how to tell a heartbreaking horror story while “Bly Manor” is a guide on what not to do.