Review: ‘The Haunting of Bly Manor’ frightens with suspense


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‘The Haunting of Bly Manor’ is a spooky series you should binge before Halloween.

Sarah Olender, lifestyle editor

Director Mike Flanagan is a perfectionist. He couldn’t just stop after creating the chilling and widely acclaimed “The Haunting of Hill House.” He had to craft a second chapter that was bigger, better and scarier.

Thus came “The Haunting of Bly Manor.”

Similar to his previous mini-series, “The Haunting of Bly Manor” follows the story of a haunted family, frequently alternating between past and present to tell the ghost stories of the house and their own family history. While “Hill House” hones in on one nuclear family and their experiences stemming from a haunted house, “Bly Manor” follows an American au pair attempting to escape her past as she takes a job in rural England as a live-in nanny with two children whose parents have recently died. While caring for Flora (Amelie Bea Smith) and Miles (Benjamin Evan Ainsworth), au pair Dani (Victoria Pedretti) notices increasingly peculiar behaviors in the two kids, as well as the other caretakers on the property. All the while, Dani has a ghost of her own that continues to haunt her.

Bly Manor’s locale is home to a variety of spirits. Dani is haunted by a ghost of her past, the property is haunted by a woman in the lake and the house is haunted by the people who died there. 

The diverse array of supernatural elements and storylines easily become confusing, and it isn’t until the final episode that the audience finally understands how each is intertwined. Because the show takes such a long time to reach the main plot points, the audience has more time to dwell on the suspense and mystery. The drawn out ending makes the reveal of true backstories and intentions more satisfying. There is just enough information in each episode to keep viewers invested. 

The mystery of behind Dani’s mental torture constantly keeps the viewers in unnerving suspense. Everytime the au pair looks in the mirror, she sees the ghost of a man with bright, glowing eyes. His identity is not revealed until later in the series, leaving the audience constantly questioning who he is and what his role in her past was.  

Because of the complicated backstories and characters, “Bly Manor” relies on many flashbacks to fill in the blanks and to provide context as the series unfolds. The entirety of episode three is filled with seamless transitions between the past and the present. It is an hour of backstories for many of the main characters. The ending comes at the perfect time; the backstories collide in one perfect ending, allowing the audience to leave the series satisfied, yet still craving more.

At times, “Bly Manor” seems to be doing too much. There are almost too many traumatic backstories to keep track of and suppressed sexualities to uncover. It takes the whole nine-part series for the audience to finally be able to see all angles of this complicated story. 

While categorized as a horror show, the mini-series frightens viewers more with suspense and mystery than jump scares and gore. It is chilling because of its dramatic irony, where the audience knows what is happening, but the characters do not.

Even in the most dramatic of scenes, there is often an absence of music. Though the series relies heavily on suspense to keep the audience on the edge of their seat, the show effortlessly does this without any music in key points. The choice to use silence as a background noise is deafening. 

On many occasions, cinematographer James Kneist angles the camera so it faces Dani from the darkest corner or angle, making the audience feel as if they are swallowed by darkness and peering out from the shadows. Lighting choices often silhouette the main characters or evil spirits, further intensifying the moment. 

While slow to start, and more suspenseful than the prequel series, “The Haunting of Bly Manor” is a mini-series you must binge on the nights leading up to Halloween.