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Wednesday, October 21, 2020

Netflix’s ‘The Haunting Of Bly Manor’ Is A Worthy Follow-Up To ‘Hill House’

In the sea of countless Netflix originals constantly breaking against the shores of our eyeballs, I count The Haunting of Hill House as one of my favorites, if not my ultimate favorite individual season of any show on the service. I was nervous to hear that the show was pulling an American Horror Story, recycling some of the cast into a second season that went full anthology with an entirely new house and ghost story.

Turns out, creator Mike Flanagan can make lightning strike twice. And perhaps many more times to follow, depending on what’s next.

I will say that no, perhaps I don’t like Bly Manor as much as Hill House, but it’s such a high bar for me personally, that I don’t want that to be viewed as a negative take.

Like Hill House, Bly Manor is less a horror show about a family and more of a family show plagued with horrors, both based in the real world and ghostlike.

Unlike Hill House, we are not focused on a single family, but rather a disparate collection of characters. Victoria Pedretti, now a huge presence on Netflix between two Hauntings and You, is an American au pair trying to escape a tragedy in the states by fleeing to London. There, she’s tasked with supervising two children who recently lost their parents, looked after only by a distant uncle. Naturally, there’s been trouble at the house, most pressingly, the last au pair committed suicide not that long ago.

The cast is rounded out by a gardener, a cook and live-in housekeeper and Oliver Jackson-Cohen is the other returning cast member as Peter, a charming but unsettling associate of the uncle. Narrating this entire tale is Hill House’s Carla Gugino, her connection to all this saved until the end.

Bly Manor, and to a certain extent, Hill House before it, is what I would describe as “what if LOST was a horror show?” There are mysteries to be solved, both in present day, but in the history of both the cast and the central location, though this time a house, not an island. Sure, Bly Manor is scary at times, including at least one jump scare that was forceful enough to punctuate all nine episodes, but it’s less about that and more about simply…understanding what you’re seeing unfold here.

My wife and I spent the duration of the series more or less shouting out different theories about what was happening. After training ourselves on Hill House, the twists and turns were somewhat easier to spot this time around, and many of our predictions did turn out to be right. But on many occasions, the show goes places you simply cannot predict, and by the end, I think most fans of Hill House will find that this journey has been worthwhile.

Bly Manor does have emotional resonance, both in terms of romantic relationships and familial ones. Perhaps not on the level of Hill House, but it’s something that works well in Flanagan’s version of horror, as it’s not just about scaring you or disturbing you or creating some hopeless situation for all the characters, as so much horror often does. This practically feels like a new genre of horror in every way from the performances to the scripts to even the soundtrack.

While no, maybe Bly Manor does not live up to the heights of Hill House, I would still absolutely recommend it for fans of the first series. Flanagan deserves to get a blank check from Netflix to keep telling as many of these stories as he has in him, even if at some point, we may need to move on from very specific, very haunted large houses. But for two seasons running now, it just works, and is the perfect precursor to Halloween this October.

Follow me on TwitterYouTube and Instagram. Pick up my sci-fi novels Herokiller and Herokiller 2, and read my first series, The Earthborn Trilogy, which is also on audiobook.

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