For those of you that remember The Haunting of Hill House, I don’t have to tell you how great it was. It was a celebration of fear, but also a story of the pitfalls of a family. The Haunting of Bly Manor, in comparison, tells the story of a mansion deep in the rural area of Bly, England. When Netflix first announced the idea, I was thrilled. I loved the idea of another American Horror Story, of throwing the actors into different roles, introducing new ones, and replicating the vibe of The Haunting of Hill House that we love so much. Bly Manor guides us on a journey through questions left unanswered until the end, just as its predecessor did. It begins with a ghost story; quite literally, with a woman retelling the story of Bly Manor to a group of wedding guests. An au pair, Dani, played by audience favorite, Victoria Pedretti, travels to England to care for two young children, Miles and Flora, played by Benjamin Evan Ainsworth and Amelie Smith, whose parents and previous nanny have recently died. Though she was warned, Dani begins to experience their strange behavior for herself, in the form of Flora’s doll obsession and Miles’s violent behavior. The show’s scares rely on the behavior of the children and the appearance of the ghosts, instead of the jump scares fans were used to in Hill House.
The characters are haunted by several ghosts, each of which offers an insight into their minds. Dani is haunted by a silhouetted man with glowing yellow eyes, seen only in her reflection. In the first couple of episodes, the audience is drawn to Dani from the beginning because of her seemingly deadly secret. Who is the spirit and what did she do to him? Flora and Miles are haunted by their previous nanny, Rebecca; Tahirah Sharif, who seemingly committed suicide due to the abandonment of her boyfriend, Peter; as well as Peter himself. Flora and Miles’s Uncle Henry, Henry Thomas, is haunted by a smiling ghost, a replica of himself, who terrorizes him in his office. Additionally, the whole house is haunted by a faceless woman who emerges from the lake at night to roam the house, leaving muddy footprints in her wake. Many of these secrets are revealed by halfway through the show, leaving the audience to wonder what is left.
The Spoiler Part:
I, myself, was disappointed to learn that Dani’s secret guilt was lesbianism. Dani’s guilt comes in the shape of indirectly causing the death of her fiance after they argued about calling off the wedding. Dani comes to terms with her guilt, in the form of her ex-fiance’s ghostly apparition. Instead of a shocking reveal of Dani’s inner demons, what the audience thought of as the reasoning for Dani’s character being too perfect, she reveals that she is gay.
Rebecca’s tragic past is told to us by her being trapped in snippets of memories from her life, what Flora calls being “tucked away.” We see her tumultuous relationship with Peter, the valet, and his ultimate reveal to her that, instead of abandoning her, he was killed by the faceless ghost. In an unclear sequence of events, Peter convinces Rebecca to allow him to possess her. He, in turn, walks her body into the lake, where Flora finds her the next morning. This part of the show goes past in a single episode, and the audience is still unsure of why Rebecca, made up to be a strong, independent woman allows herself to be taken over by the man she had hated for months after his departure.
The reasoning behind Uncle Henry’s haunting is painfully literal. After his brother, the children’s father, confronts him about sleeping with the children’s mother, the brother implies that Henry will have to live with his guilt, his “inner demon.” As it turns out, Henry is indeed haunted by his guilt, and by his love for Flora, who is actually his daughter.
We learn of the history of the faceless ghost in one of the last episodes. Narrated by the woman from the beginning, one of the audience’s favorite actresses from Hill House returns to tell the story of a woman murdered by her jealous sister, and trapped in purgatory at the bottom of the lake. As the years pass, she forgets her life, and her face disappears.
In a not-so-shocking twist, we learn that a prominent character, Hannah the Housekeeper, played by a refreshing new face, T’nia Miller, has been dead since the beginning of the show. The episode in question showed Miles, possessed by Peter, pushing her into a well and Hannah breaking her neck at the bottom. To the audience’s confusion, the show made this out to be a surprise when we’d literally seen her die. She is also the only “living” character who we find staring at nothing, lost in her thoughts, and acting downright creepy. The only characters who are being “tucked away” in their memories are the spirits of Bly Manor and Flora, which is never explained. Why is Flora being tucked away in her memories like the other spirits? And why is Hannah still able to communicate with the rest of the staff, despite being a spirit?
The climactic scene at the end comes from an escape attempt led by Peter to kill Dani, possess Miles, and leave Bly Manor. Rebecca finally sees Peter for what he is and frees Dani, telling her to leave with Flora. As they are leaving, however, Dani is taken by the faceless ghost, who’s been on a killing spree for the past hundred years. Instead of drowning Dani, the faceless ghost mistakes Flora for her long lost daughter and attempts to take her to the bottom of the lake. Why Flora doesn’t fight harder to be free of the ghost is beyond me since she allows herself to be carried away.
In a heartwarming scene, the children’s estranged Uncle Henry attempts to save Flora, only to be struck down by the faceless ghost, which in the end, defeats the heart-warming-ness of it. Dani saves Flora only by repeating a phrase the faceless ghost had once said to her daughter and then allowing her to possess Dani. These events are unclear to the audience, and the narrator smooths it over by saying that Dani herself didn’t know why she said this. The faceless ghost, previously made out to be full of rage and emptiness, finds herself drawn into Dani by these few words. The faceless ghost chooses to leave Bly Manor, harboring inside Dani, who can sense her. Dani tells her lover, the gardener, played by Amelia Eve, that someday the ghost will kill her. And lo and behold, she does, years later. This is presented to us as a tragedy, feeling the grief of her lover after the fall of our heroine. The rest of the story is told from the viewpoint of the gardener, who, to be frank, never captured our attention in the first place.
At the end, the gardener is revealed as the woman narrating the story, attending Flora’s wedding. Feeling such nostalgia for Hill House, with the narrator played by Carla Gugino, I feel almost angry that they wasted her character on the gardener.
The Haunting of Bly Manor on its own was a tragic, fear-inducing viewing, but as a tribute to Hill House, something didn’t meet my expectations. The shocking revelations in Hill House, like Nellie being the “bent neck lady,” are worlds apart from the “reveals” of Bly Manor, such as Hannah being dead, and the narrator being the gardener.
The climactic scene of Hill House, when the children and their father are forced to flee, leaving their mother behind, was a storm compared to Bly Manor’s light drizzle of a “climax” scene. The only consequences of that night are Dani’s possession and ultimate death, which the audience knows about literally years beforehand.
Questions were left unexplained, such as the lore of being “tucked away” along with spirits communicating with living people, each instance seems to have its own rules.
The directing of Bly Manor leaves something to be desired, as well. Watching Hill House was an experience due to its repetition of scenes from different characters’ viewpoints, which we only get once in Bly Manor. Part of the appeal of Hill House was the complex dynamics between the siblings and their father. Since Bly Manor takes place over a much shorter amount of time, and involves characters who haven’t known each other for very long, the relationships among the living people are at times shallow and offer surface-level emotions. Perhaps because of this, however, the audience is able to more clearly put themselves in the place of Dani, who by all means is just an ordinary American girl. The audience doesn’t have to struggle with imagining what it was like to grow up in a haunted house, and instead can experience the scary things that happen as they come, experiencing the paranormal for the first time, as Dani is. The audience can relate with Dani more perhaps because of her character’s lack of depth. Instead of experiencing the too-perfect American girl, fish out of water stereotype, they can fill this character with their own thoughts, fears, and emotions.
Overall, while Bly Manor was an experience in and of itself, it lacked the connection with the characters, the shocking revelations, and the plot of Hill House. I look forward to whatever new hauntings Netflix has in store, but I’ve lost hope of it being in any way comparable to The Haunting of Hill House.