Episode 1 -| Review Score – 3.5/5
Episode 2 -| Review Score – 3.5/5
Episode 3 -| Review Score – 3/5
Episode 4 -| Review Score – 3/5
Episode 5 -| Review Score – 4.5/5
Episode 6 -| Review Score – 3/5
Episode 7 -| Review Score – 3.5/5
Episode 8 -| Review Score – 3/5
Episode 9 -| Review Score – 3/5
One of the biggest TV surprises of 2018 was The Haunting Of Hill House. One of the very few shows we’ve given 10/10 to on this site, Hill House perfectly blended legitimate scares with nicely written twists and likable characters. It also received critical acclaim across various media outlets and fans were admittedly impressed by Netflix’s effort. From the Hanging girl to the floating gentleman, there were enough scares in place to keep horror fans happy while the cinematography beautifully captured the dread-inducing atmosphere.
With fan expectation high, I guess going into this you’ll have 3 distinct questions about Bly. Is this as good as Hill House? Is Bly Manor Scary? And is the story intriguing enough to sustain 9 hours of drama? The answer to those three questions is a resounding no.
As a period drama parading around with a Gothic horror facade, this one is actually not half bad. There’s enough twists to keep you watching and a couple of dread-inducing segments early on certainly get you invested in the story to find out more.
Unfortunately all of this is undermined by the simple fact that this is just not scary. There’s probably 3 tense segments and a beautifully written episode 5 but aside from that, the rest of this series revels in a litany of flashbacks and soapy drama.
Not only do these exhausting flashbacks offset the pacing, it’s also accompanied by a lot of narration that completely negates any atmosphere being built up. The story is so predictable that you will have figured out most of the twists by episode 3 and the rest of the show takes its sweet time to explain what we already know. The finale even goes so far as to wrap everything up in the first 10 minutes and leaves the rest of the episode to a long, drawn-out ending that eventually catches us up to the opening scenes of the show.
But let’s back-track a moment. The story itself starts interestingly enough, with a familiar character from Hill House (no spoilers here of course!) arriving at a rehearsal wedding and telling a ghost story. From here, we cut back in time to 1987 where our story plays out. Bright and cheerful au-pair Dani is hired by wealthy toff Henry to look after his niece Flora and nephew Miles. When Dani arrives at Bly Manor, it soon becomes apparent that all is not what it seems and these old, ancient walls hold many secrets.
It’s definitely a solid opener and Flora’s upbeat “perfectly splendid!” retorts are both unsettling and strangely endearing across the season. As the episodes progress, each focuses on a different character and explores their background. We learn more about Dani’s tragic past, the housekeeper Hannah gets her own segment (which is the best episode of the season) and there’s even an entire episode that take us all the way back in time to the origins of the house.
I won’t spoil anything here but Bly Manor feels like the TV equivalent of a man explaining a semi-funny joke over and over again. The few tricks this show has are repeated so frequently that they lose their effectiveness. Even worse, episode 7 ends on a massive cliffhanger which is not touched upon until the start of episode 9. Instead, episode 8 sandwiches in another long flashback sequence – shot entirely in black and white no less – that’ll have you itching to return to the present.
In fact, that’s a problem that the entire series is plagued with. The modern day story is never given the time to breathe or really revel in its mystery because we’re constantly given flashbacks and sequences that remind us, in no uncertain terms, that this is not a horror and we need everything explained to us. Instead, this is very much a romantic drama masquerading in the grotesque skeletal form of Hill House.
Like a Walking Dead spin-off clutching onto the franchise name, Bly Manor is a show that tries to ride the same hype-train Hill House had but slips up constantly, forgetting what made the original so endearing.
That’s not to say the show is a complete disaster though. The acting is very good, especially from the two children. Amelie Bea Smith and Benjamin Ainsworth do a perfectly splendid job as the two troubled children of the house. T’Nia Miller meanwhile is fantastic as Hannah and a couple of other characters put on decent performances too.
The production design is good and when the intentionally confusing editing works – it really is incredibly effective. After episode 5, the rest of the show tries to repeat what made this so good but never manages to replicate it.
While the first story was about loss and how that affects you, Bly Manor by comparison is all about love and how that brings people together. It’s an intriguing juxtaposition against Hill House and there’s a few moments that touch on obsession and distorted romance. Instead of spinning this into a twisted and cruel tale, we instead get a melodramatic soap opera devoid of scares or any moment that matches up to season 1.
Bly Manor is unfortunately one of the biggest disappointments of the year. It’s a follow-up that proves that lightning doesn’t strike twice. Numerous publications have listed Mike Flanagan as the “modern master of horror” but the only horrifying thing here is just how much this misses the mark. It’s a show that builds the foundations to grow into a spooky and unsettling horror but never follows through. Like Flora’s doll-house, it’s an idea that’s played with early on before forgotten about and left to gather dust, moving on to the next shiny thing and losing sight of what made that house so good to begin with.
The Haunting Of Bly Manor releases on Netflix worldwide 9th October 2020