One line near the end of the series sums it up pretty well, “You said it was a ghost story … it’s a love story.” “The Haunting of Bly Manor,” the second installment in Mike Flanagan’s “Haunting of” series, presents tragic love stories layered beneath some extremely scary visuals and a hauntingly great atmosphere. The series addresses serious topics like abuse, infidelity and sexuality, with sexuality actually being an integral part of the story.
Spanning nine episodes for a roughly 500 minute runtime, it’s perfect for a few days of binge-worthy content.
The story is that of a young American woman, Dani, who is running from her past and hired as the governess for a lawyer’s orphaned niece and nephew at Bly Manor after the prior governess, Rebecca, committed suicide on the grounds. Multiple entities seem to haunt the grounds and quite a few characters seem to be holding back what they know about the situation. At the manor, we are also introduced to Owen the cook, Hannah the housekeeper and Jamie the groundskeeper. With so many characters in one series being given so much screen time, you would think someone would get neglected, but everyone — from the kids, all the way to the cook and the businessman uncle — are given such developed and nuanced characteristics that it is hard not to fall in love with the characters.
The special effects at times can look a bit cheesy; one scene in particular in the first episode presents Dani being driven to the manor by Owen, and they have a conversation, with the scenery passing by the car looking like something out of a driving scene from the ‘70s. This had me really worried for the rest of the series, and while many effects still look rather “cheap” at times, the atmosphere and sparse use of the actual effects makes it a fairly minor critique.
While the atmosphere for the most part often keeps you on your toes, I feel that there’s sometimes too much time between those tense scenes, but it really varies from episode to episode. Some had me covering my eyes most of the time, and others quite frankly had me checking how long was left in the episode. I do recognize, however, that the horror was meant to take a backseat to the stories of love and loss, and this is honestly something I wish more horror films would do: focus less on over the top scares and create more human stories that help us as an audience resonate more with the characters to give us that connection that makes us care what happens to them. The acting from every actor is great. The child actors are child actors, so you can’t expect the greatest line deliveries ever, but Benjamin Evan Ainsworth, who plays Miles, delivers a really great and really creepy performance. Oliver Jackson-Cohen, who plays Peter Quint, manages to put together such a sympathetic performance in one scene, then a scary, intimidating one in the next.
While many others criticize the lack of horror, I think this is a symptom of poor advertising. Being the sequel to “The Haunting of Hill House,” people are expecting scary, and the advertising doesn’t really indicate the personal story of struggle you are getting. I can confidently recommend this to anyone looking for a great story of sexuality, loss, love and a little bit of scares tossed around.