Eerie and hauntingly beautiful: ‘The Haunting of Bly Manor’ Review

“When you stare into the abyss, the abyss stares back at you.”

                                                                                                  ― Friedrich Nietzsche

The abyss of the Bly Manor is startlingly different from the Hill House. One of the most anticipated series of this fall, the Haunting of Bly Manor strikes a very different kind of terror in the heart of its audience. Unlike the bleak grounds of the Hill House, enveloped in fog and darkness, the Bly Manor is “perfectly splendid”, so much so, that its inhabitants wish to stay forever in it. And some of them never leave.

A ghost story of the sorts, the Bly Manor does not rely abundantly upon the jump scares, ghosts, and other supernatural elements to evoke horror. But haunt it does, and that too, for a long while. When compared to the Haunting of Hill House, the story may seem to fall short in arousing blood- curdling, spine-chilling dread, in conjuring shadows at every nook and corner of the house, however, the dread one feels in the Bly Manor is more psychological; manifested in grief, loss, and tragedy.  

Loosely based on the works of Henry James, the series opens with the young, American ‘au pair’ – Dany – travelling to England to take care of two orphaned children – Flora and Miles. Somewhat bizarre, they give a sense of something amiss, which is further accentuated by the recent loss of their parents in a mysterious accident.

Troubled, the children exhibit their loss in different ways. While Flora plays around with a somewhat disconcerting collection of dolls, Miles displays more violent tendencies ensuing in permanent expulsion from the boarding school. United in their grief, they turn to each other for comfort and company. Hiding secrets of the Manor, Miles, and Flora know more than they reveal. Muddy footprints, dream hopping, ghost sightings; the Bly Manor has ample supernatural elements, but it’s not the supernatural, the series seems to be interested in.     

Dany Clayton (Victoria Pedretti), employed for the care of children by an aloof, but wealthy Henry Wingrave (Henry Thomas) enters the grounds of the Bly Manor. Haunted by a dark apparition from her past, Dany finds friendship, and love in unusual places. Wrapped in layers and layers, the shadows start to reveal themselves slowly. The evil, unfriendly shadows which are also stuck on the grounds of Bly, and are not allowed to leave. The real strength of the story lies not in inducing horror as was done by the bent-necked lady, but in unraveling human emotions – betrayals, lies, desires, grief, anger, trauma, and above all, love. Even the dead and the most evil characters seek love.   

Towards the end of the series, Flora remarks, “But I think you set it up wrong just in the beginning. You said it was a ghost story. It isn’t. It’s a love story.” And it is. It is the redemptive power of love which saves, and heals the inhabitants of the Bly Manor. Unlike the Hill House, the Bly Manor builds up slowly, with each episode taking a story forward, and sometimes, it seems to be stuck in a loop. Building the backstory of almost every character takes time, and patience.

With eerie music, beautiful visuals, the series perfectly evokes the gothic setting, and environment of Rebecca. However, what makes the show worth watching, is the empathy, and compassion that it invokes, even for the evil dead. The Haunting of Bly Manor stands apart from other ghost stories in being relatable. One can easily imagine oneself in the shoes of Dany, or Rebecca, and even Viola, the original inhabitant of the Bly Manor. Strikingly different from its first edition, the Bly Manor does not fail to haunt, and it haunts for a long while after it ends.

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