Based on Henry James’ novella THE TURN OF THE SCREW, THE HAUNTING OF BLY MANOR (Netflix) brings back most of the cast of the successful HAUNTING OF HILL HOUSE for another emotional, creepy ride. The character-driven narrative was a big too slow burn for me, and the gradual collision of its parts didn’t produce as big an explosion as HILL HOUSE achieved (starting with that stupendous episode 6 at the funeral home). Nonetheless, it’s a great ghost story–multilayered, emotionally deep, and very Gothic.
The story focuses on Dani, an American plagued by guilt living in the UK, where she applies for and gains a job as a governess for two precocious but troubled children, Miles and Flora, whose parents died a year earlier. The staff–the kind-hearted housekeeper, humorous cook, and brassy gardener–welcome her, as do the children, though the kids appear to have a secret. The secret, of course, has to do with a haunting…
Despite taking a bit too long to build tension, this was very enjoyable fare. As with HILL HOUSE, we get frequent digressions in various episodes to examine past events and how they affected each of the major characters. As with HILL HOUSE, sometimes the ghosts are psychological–the “Ghost” in the character arc portrayed as a recurring, haunting mental image–and sometimes the ghosts ar all too real. This is clearly a story about people that happens to have ghosts in it, not the other way around. All the characters are likeable or at least sympathetic. There are thankfully fewer jump scares than HILL HOUSE, as I’m not a big fan of the device, but when they come, they’re much more powerful, particularly when the main ghost is revealed. On a final note, I particularly enjoyed how a same-gender romance was portrayed. It feels completely organic–the people involved displayed real chemistry that starts the first time they meet–and is the best portrayal I’ve seen.
Overall, I’m thankful for this series, which reminds us that in a genre crammed with torture, shock, and jump scares, there are great literary horror watches that focus on character and theme.