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Sunday, October 4, 2020

[Review] “The Haunting of Bly Manor” Takes on Gothic Romance with Captivating Remix of Henry James’ Horror Works

Two years ago, Mike Flanagan reworked Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House to deliver a compelling 10-episode Netflix series of chills, trauma, and heartbreak for the Crain family. It set a new standard for literary adaptations and horror television, wowing critics and audiences alike. For its follow up, Flanagan goes further back to explore one of Jackson’s influences, Henry James. The second season may take its name from the haunted estate in The Turn of the Screw, but The Haunting of Bly Manor incorporates many of James’ well-regarded horror works. The result is a season that shares its predecessor’s same DNA while forging a new identity steeped in Gothic Romance. All with Flanagan’s distinct touch for delving into the horrors of the human condition.

Set mostly within the ’80s, Bly Manor tells of Dani Clayton (Victoria Pedretti), an American au pair hired to look after orphaned siblings at a remote countryside Wingrave estate. It’s a dream job in theory, especially with precocious ward Flora Wingrave (Amelia Smith) and the welcoming staff that includes caretaker Hannah Grose (T’Nia Miller) and chef Owen (Rahul Kohli). But elder sibling Miles Wingrave (Benjamin Evan Ainsworth) faced recent boarding school expulsion. The children’s uncle Henry (Henry Thomas) wants nothing to do with them, and the previous au pair died under strange circumstances. Then there’s the matter of ghosts, of course. Like Hill House, Bly Manor’s halls and shadowed corners are filled with the restless spirits of its tragic past.

The 9-episode season centers its central narrative around James’ most popular novella. That means that the first few exposition-heavy episodes will feel very familiar to those familiar with James’ most popular novella or any of its adaptations, like this year’s The Turning or The Innocents. Meticulous care is spent getting acquainted with every character, drawing lines between their past and present with precision. Getting adjusted with the bright, sunshine-filled manor can feel unwieldy and often sluggish to start because of the careful character plotting. It doesn’t help that one character’s arc is plain as day from the outset, making the wait for the eventual reveal a bit tedious. More scares are loaded in, but the first half of the season appears to be a faithful adaptation for the most part. With this season, patience is critical. It’s when all the various threads slowly come together, and Flanagan’s reworking of the source material comes into play, that season two showcases the same level of awe and splendor that Hill House evoked.

Bly Manor isn’t just tackling The Turn of the Screw; it’s readapting short stories “The Jolly Corner,” “Owen Wingrave,” and “The Romance of Certain Old Clothes.” Some more faithfully, and some loosely, but all seamlessly blended with the main storyline. The hidden ghosts return this season, but this time they appear for a reason. As in, they’re not just scattered haphazardly as fun Easter eggs; they serve a narrative purpose. Look to Flora’s dollhouse for insights on the house and its secrets, too.

Bly Manor is a love story at its core, and all the soaring highs and heartbreaking lows that entails. Not just romantic love, either, but familial love to a lesser extent. This is Flanagan giving the Gothic Romance a modern spin while emphasizing that the subgenre isn’t saccharine sweet and tidy. It’s messy, full of secrets, mystery, supernatural terror, and, above all, ruin. Sure, it’s a love story, but it’s one befitting of its place in horror.

Like the previous season, the characters make this series so special, both in the actors’ performances and in writing. Pedretti is fantastic as the doe-eyed nanny fleeing her past, but it can be a little jarring at first to see her as a different character than last season’s standout, Nell Crain. Oliver Jackson-Cohen fares much better as the ruthless Peter Quint, a villainous type with more layers than initially appears. The children are, as Flora puts it, “perfectly splendid.” It’s Miller and Kohli that slyly emerge as the most endearing; their warmth and banter are infectious.

Bly Manor isn’t a series that grips you from the outset but slowly consumes you whole as it builds to a conclusion that sticks with you. Flanagan enlisted other genre filmmakers this season, including Yolanda Ramke & Ben Howling (Cargo), Liam Gavin (A Dark Song), Axelle Carolyn (Soulmate), and E.L. Katz (Cheap Thrills, “Channel Zero”), and all execute a cohesive vision. Bly Manor stumbles most in its pacing; the sluggish start and predictability of certain characters belie the emotional intensity of the season’s latter half. Compared to the high bar set last season, Bly Manor doesn’t quite reach the same heights. That’s probably not saying much, though, because even with its flaws, Bly Manor offers a captivating Gothic Romance full of chills, thrills, and emotional authenticity that rewards upon every subsequent viewing. It’s hard not to miss the Crain family, but the Wingraves offer a worthy enough substitute to leave you eager to see where Flanagan takes the series next. 

The Haunting of Bly Manor premieres on Netflix on October 9, 2020.



source https://bloody-disgusting.com/reviews/3633210/review-mike-flanagans-haunting-bly-manor-takes-gothic-romance-captivating-remix-henry-james-horror-works/

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