"Kicking Television" / dhammza / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
Warning: The following review contains spoilers from “The Haunting of Bly Manor.”
In one of the last scenes of Netflix’s 2020 original mini-series, “The Haunting of Bly Manor,” the bride, whose wedding serves as the framing for the tale, responds to the narrator by saying that she had marketed her account of the events at Bly Manor all wrong.
It’s not a ghost story — it’s a love story.
I’m sure audiences were expecting the same.
“The Haunting of Bly Manor” may not be as frightening as its predecessor, “The Haunting of Hill House,” but it lives up to its name. Right until the final frame before the screen goes black, there are moments in the show that will leave a deep, shadowy footprint on your soul.
Do not take my words lightly.
Despite how the trailers presented it, “The Haunting of Bly Manor” is a tragic love story. It is an ode to genuine horror, the existential fear that permeates the dark corners of our minds.
The story surrounds former teacher Dani Clayton (Victoria Pedretti), who takes a job as an au-pair of two children on behalf of their absent uncle (Henry Thomas) in the English countryside.
During her stay, she meets and befriends cook Owen Sharma (Rahul Kohli), groundskeeper Jamie (Amelia Eve), and housekeeper Mrs. Grose (T’Nia Miller). Throughout the show, Dani confronts her own demons and learns of the haunting events surrounding the death of the previous au-pair, Miss Jessel (Tahirah Sharif).
The story comes full circle, as several years after the events of the main storyline, Jamie becomes a solitary widow (Carla Gugino) after her love, Dani, sacrifices her life for her safety. Jamie begins and ends the series sleeping on the same couch, with the door left ajar should the ghost of her love return.
For an hour after watching the series, I sat back to process everything I had witnessed. Just like the young girl Flora (Amelie Bea Smith), I was “tucked away” into my memories of the show; these memories practically begged me to restart the show and seek out examples of foreshadowing. Upon re-watching certain scenes, I came upon more details that illustrated the genius of the plotting.
The last episode, “The Beast in the Jungle,” was a highlight of the series. Earlier in the show, upon the disappearance of Miss Jessel’s boyfriend, the manipulative Peter Quint (Oliver Jackson-Cohen), Mrs. Grose tells her that it takes half the time you know someone to get over them. Miss Jessel shrugs her off, stating that not everything has a “half-life.”
And it’s true: “The Haunting of Bly Manor” tells an engrossing romance between Jamie and Dani, one that is measured not in time but the beauty of “the mortality of the thing.”
LGBTQ characters in film and television, let alone LGBTQ women, are rarely given the epic love story treatment, which makes me admire the ending even more.
This is not to say that the show wasn’t terrifying at times. The penultimate episode, “The Romance of Certain Old Clothes,” has one of the most remarkable jump-scares I have ever seen in horror. Yes, I am talking about the scene with the dress.
Even in the earlier episodes, some moments convey an ominous atmosphere, especially among the two children. Flora peers over Dani’s shoulder, while Miles (Benjamin Ainsworth), who we later learn is possessed by Peter, acts rather strange around Dani. You can’t help but feel that something is wrong, and, no doubt about it, there is. The Lady of the Lake, otherwise known as Viola (Kate Siegel), is both another victim and the source of evils that befall the manor.
The two children, Eve and Ainsworth, are immediate stand-outs from the series. Throughout the nine episodes, they navigate from sinister to charismatic, childlike to adult, all within a single scene. Pedretti, who has previously been featured on other Netflix thrillers such as “The Haunting of Hill House” and “You,” provides a career-best performance. Additionally, Miller is fantastic; her episode, “The Altar of the Dead,” is perhaps one of the best hours of television I have ever experienced.
No quote surmises this show better than “dead doesn’t mean gone.” Although my immediate reaction to hearing this quote brought forward the idea of ghosts, it also applies to love: Even if one has died, the love in their life will last as long as they are remembered. That, in essence, is the message of the show.
From its beautiful acting to its well-thought-out script, ”The Haunting of Bly Manor” is an outstanding addition to “The Haunting” anthology.
This story was originally published on Scot Scoop News on October 15, 2020.