Review: “Haunting of Bly Manor”

Its perfectly splendid, but no Hill House

By: Nick Hawks

“The Haunting of Bly Manor” was seen by some as a sequel to “The Haunting of Hill House,” Netflix’s breakout horror/thriller series from 2018, but with a twist. Although written by the same people and with many key cast members from the original returning, the show was an entirely different plot with no connection to Hill House. 

It’s a new popular wave, a trend that picked up steam with FX’s hit show “American Horror Story” and the HBO thriller “True Detective.” As “True Detective” has shown, just because a show has a breakout first season (thanks to the coming-out party of Matthew McConaughey as a dramatic actor!), it doesn’t mean success is guaranteed. Could Bly Manor live up to its predecessor? 

To get right to the point, no, it did not. It doesn’t have to be the Millennium Force to be an enjoyable ride, filled with dramatic twists and turns. The show follows Dani, an au pair (fancy word for a live-in babysitter), hired to look after two young children, whose parents recently died, at an estate that looks old, glamorous, and in the middle of nowhere surrounded by trees, aka haunted.  

The children themselves are well-behaved, but creepy, led by a breakout performance by Amelie Bea Smith, the 9-year-old girl that plays Flora. Smith shines as both an innocent, playful “perfectly splendid” girl, but also one that has odd outbursts that hint at some sort of dark trauma. Between her and her older brother, Miles, there is a secret that they keep from Dani (and the audience) that serves at the tension for about half of the show. It’s effective, mysterious, and keeps you binging (yes Netflix, I’m still watching). With a supporting cast of characters that serve as employees of the estate, the show mostly does well in giving you people to care about. 

Here’s where it comes up short: The charm of Hill House wasn’t just the mystery of the house itself, but the investment it gave you in the main cast of characters. You didn’t just care that the family members were obviously plagued by some sort of disturbing haunting from decades before, you cared that they were estranged. Why is Luke a drug addict? Why is Nellie so mad at Steven for writing a book? Why is Shirley mad at everybody? Personally, I found as much satisfaction in the characters resolving their personal drama as I found in them confronting their demons in the house, which is a rare feat. Did it set the bar too high? It may have, because Bly Manor in itself was a perfectly enjoyable, if not refreshing watch. But it’s not Hill House. 

Grade: B+