Arts, Features

REVIEW: ‘The Haunting of Bly Manor’ delivers quality spookiness

October movie releases are of the spooky, scary variety, and “The Haunting of Bly Manor” stuck to the tradition when it debuted on Netflix Friday as a continuation of “The Haunting of Hill House.”

Netflix released “The Haunting of Bly Manor” on Friday as a follow-up to the 2018 series “The Haunting of Hill House.” ILLUSTRATION BY LAURYN ALLEN/ DAILY FREE PRESS STAFF

“Hill House” was released on Netflix in October 2018, based on a 1959 Shirley Jackson gothic horror book of the same name. That series received critical acclaim and prompted the follow-up series two years later.

“Bly Manor” also was based on a book, but loosely — Henry James’s “The Turn of the Screw” novella from 1898 is a popular work to adapt, and there have been several movies and shows, including the poorly received film “The Turning” from earlier this year starring Finn Wolfhard.

Similar in eeriness and quality to “Hill House,” “Bly Manor” brings back some of the same actors for even more continuity. Their reprises in different roles give the show an “American Horror Story” energy, but these shows are separate series, not unrelated seasons.

In the opening of “Bly Manor,” an older woman, played by veteran “Hill House” actor Carla Gugino, tells a ghost story at a wedding reception. The young couple and their wedding party listen attentively as she tells the story of Dani Clayton and the children of Bly Manor.

Clayton, played by Victoria Pedretti of “You” and “Hill House,” delivers a convincing performance as a Southern American au pair in the English countryside. She’s hired after the suicide of the previous governess and the secretive death of the children’s parents. However, Clayton has her own demons in addition to Bly’s horrors and the subsequent haunting.

The show, supposedly horror, has well-timed sections of drama and romance, normally followed by a good scare. While the first few episodes of the season are quite plot-driven with a few jump scares, each episode is sure to end with a frightening cliffhanger.

The manor seems perfectly fine at first. The gardens are well kept, and the setting isn’t too uneasy or chilling. However, the terror comes with time. The show pulls off the horror-drama genre well — by not taking every moment to scare the audience with a stereotypically spooky mansion, the location gets more frightening throughout the show and has more depth as a setting.

The cast in residence at Bly Manor is skilled. The children, Miles and Flora, are creepy and childish, and the maid Hannah Grose is religious and kind. In the first episode, Clayton has trouble connecting a Southern personality to the dialogue. When offered tea during her job interview, she says she’s “used to it coming in a pitcher, full of ice cubes and lemon wedges.”

In the introduction of her character, the Southern gal vibe seems forced. Soon after she’s hired, Clayton arrives at Bly Manor and seems to forget her Southern roots — and the only thing left is her American accent. The rest of the season, Pedretti’s character is strong-willed, powerful and relatable.

Creator Mike Flanagan commands the eeriness, from a heartwarming flashback to a calmly creepy music box. He approaches the staple horror elements of the genre uniquely with mystery and intrigue.

When watching a horror film, the scares are the selling point. A successful one has the scariest CGI demon or the loudest, most catchy theme. “The Haunting of Bly Manor,” however, is a show with real, dynamic characters. While it’s not the most horrifying thing in the world, it delivers a quality story with a good October scare.

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