Mike Flanagan’s The Haunting of Hill House may just be the defining piece of television from the last decade, and with that comes big expectations. Flanagan’s second installment in his ‘Haunting’ anthology, The Haunting of Bly Manor lives up to its predecessor. It’s a beautifully poetic miniseries that explores questions of both life and death. Intimate and delicate in touch, Flanagan sets the stage for a slew of newcomers. Unlike Hill House, Flanagan only directs the first episode and leaves the remaining 8 to some of today’s freshest hands. Though it may set it back a bit, this factor still makes for an experience unlike before.
Based on the 1898 novella The Turn of the Screw by Henry James, the story tells of a young au pair (Victoria Pedretti) hired to look after two young children at Bly Manor. Bly is a small country town in England, where the Wingrave family frequent in the summer. Upon arriving to Bly Manor, the unknowing au pair begins to see apparitions that proceed to haunt the premises and family alike.
The Haunting of Bly Manor sees the return of many familiar faces, but Hill House‘s Victoria Pedretti is where all eyes are set. Pedretti leads the ‘great, good’ ensemble and she brings everything to it. The minute details of differing expressions, verbally or physically, leave one in sincere awe. After appearances in Hill House and 2019’s Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, it remains sure in one’s mind that Victoria Pedretti is a star of the future.
Bly Manor is both melancholic and cathartic as it looks upon its brittle past and effect on the present. Watching any Flanagan film or television project, one comes to expect something, a certain sense of style and precision. While Flanagan’s usual stylizations are present, they lose some traction along the way due to his passing of the baton. More precise decisions begin to turn into more of a looming presence. Flanagan gives the reigns to a vast range of directors after episode 1, it’s probably the show’s greatest mistake. They all do a fantastic job, but while the story and acting are as great-as-ever, Flanagan’s founding style is less prominent and one could perhaps say that it lessens the greater impact of the story.
Additionally, the lack of Flanagan’s go-to cinematographer Michael Fimognari is felt. While Flanagan’s Hush cinematographer James Kniest and Annabelle: Creation’s Maxime Alexandre do an amply fantastic job, they aren’t able to capture the sheer beauty of Hill House. Visually, it’s most similar during flashback sequences, with Flanagan’s use of soft light and a luscious mix of color. A palette of the most divine pinks, sumptuous yellows, and mysterious blues in the shadows are seen.
The greatest episode is the one with the greatest change; it stars Hill House alumnus Kate Siegel. Harrowing and fear-invoking, yet also elegiac. Such a vital shift in its season-long structure could be jarring, but Flanagan pulls it off to the greatest effect. Here is where one will embrace this installment as possibly the best piece of television this year.
All that being said, it’s still an overall fantastic show. The tale is moving and exquisite. Like Hill House, Bly Manor also excels in tension and the scariest of scares. There’s an ever-present sense of dread to the hauntings within the manor, it’s masterfully calculated. Comparing it to it’s predecessor does Bly Manor no justice, as Hill House may just be one of the best shows ever made. In contrast to a few complaints, one cannot fault Bly Manor as it’s a near-perfect show.
Doctor Sleep and Hill House proved that Flanagan has an affinity for bringing out the very best in child actors and once again, this can be applied here. Amelie Smith is a great delight as young Flora Wingrave and Benjamin Evan Ainsworth is excellent as Miles Wingrave. The children offer an entirely opposite perspective to the horrors. They’re almost complicit and in the know of the strange happenings around the Bly estate. Flanagan is able to create intrigue through their mysterious connection to the Manor’s ghosts.
After every episode, one wants more and more. The 9 episodes are told in a poetic and captivating manner. Full of mind-bending revelations, horrifying moments, happiness, personality and endless fascination, The Haunting of Bly Manor is not to be missed. It’s perhaps the finest and most perfectly splendid show of the year.