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The Haunting of Bly Manor First Reviews: Netflix's Hill House Follow-Up Is Filled With Heart, But Lacks The Original's Scares

Mike Flanagan's highly anticipated second Haunting is a superbly acted and visually arresting adaptation of Henry James that's more emotional than it is flat-out frightening.

by | October 5, 2020 | Comments

Mike Flanagan changed the way genre television worked when his adaptation of Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House premiered to Netflix in 2018. The series showcased the director’s interest in exploring family dynamics amid the backdrop of trauma, addiction, and abuse. The result was a heartfelt and absolutely terrifying piece of entertainment. And two years later, his team is back with The Haunting of Bly Manor — a spooky new installment, just in time for the Halloween season.

This time around, the franchise utilizes the literary works of Henry James, mostly his classic ghost story The Turn of the Screw, which tells the story of a young governess who moves into an estate in Essex, England to look after two troubled young children. Bly Manor once again finds Flanagan and his crew traversing the concepts of life, death, love, and grief, and digs into the ways these emotional highs and lows inform our overall human existence.

The series brings back members of the previous installment’s cast — Victoria Pedretti, Oliver Jackson-Cohen, Kate Siegel, and Henry Thomas — and introduces newcomers T’Nia Miller, Rahul Kohli, Tahirah Sharif, Amelia Eve, and child actors Amelie Bea Smith and Benjamin Evan Ainsworth, who play the orphaned siblings.

Season 2 of Netflix’s hit horror series returns on Friday, October 9. How will the nine-episode installment compare to its predecessor? The Haunting of Hill House is currently Certified Fresh at 93% on the Tomatometer. Here’s what the critics are saying about The Haunting of Bly Manor.


How does it compare to Hill House?

(Photo by Eike Schrotet, © Netflix)

In this second season, Flanagan has struck an artful balance of family drama, gothic horror, character work, and romance. One important note, though – there are significantly fewer jump scares, which may be a plus or a minus depending on your affinity for those. — Hannah Lodge, Screen Rex

Being more concerned with romance than trauma, Bly’s is a very different Haunting to that of Hill House, but one that also feels to have suffered from Flanagan’s more hands-off approach (his direction limited to a single episode this time around). There are some bold storytelling choices and a fluid chronology keeps things interesting, but this is neither as intricate nor intriguing as the time-bending puzzle box that made up the show’s first season. Most crucially, though, Bly never manages to chill the blood in quite the same way. — James Dyer, Empire Magazine

It’s perhaps slightly unfair to keep comparing this to Hill House. Bly Manor shares similar connective tissues – there are the same slow-creeping wide shots and plenty of jump scares – but the new series is very fun. A strange term, perhaps, to use to describe a show that will haunt you long after the credits roll, but one that’s apt for Bly Manor. The scares will have you grabbing your quarantine buddy’s hand, but never quite chilling you to the bone. — Jack Shepherd, Games Radar


How are the performances this time around? 

(Photo by Eike Schrotet, © Netflix)

The performances range from good to extraordinary, with T’Nia Miller and Amelia Eve proving themselves especially outstanding. — Charlie Ridgley, ComicBook.com

Haunting vets Pedretti, Thomas, and Oliver Jackson-Cohen (who plays Henry Wingrave’s slippery valet, Peter Quint) get to do most of the showy emoting, but the performances never go too far over the top (as they did sometimes in the occasionally maudlin Hill House). The standouts though are T’Nia Miller, who handles her character’s dramatic heavy lifting with incredible subtlety, and Rahul Kohli, whose mischievous take on Owen injects some much-needed lightness and joy into Bly Manor’s gloom. — Cheryl Eddy, io9.com

Jackson-Cohen is a particular standout this season as Peter Quint, an employee of Bly’s absent owner Henry Wingrave (Thomas). One of the characters lifted straight from Turn of the Screw, Peter sows discord in the manor, poisoning all he touches in a magnetic performance from Jackson-Cohen that is a far cry from the vulnerable Luke Crain in The Haunting‘s freshmen outing. This is not the only instance in which it seems Flanagan purposefully gave a returning actor a role wholly different from what they did in Hill House, but no one meets the occasion quite like Jackson-Cohen does. — Sadie Gennis, TV Guide


And what about the kids?

THE HAUNTING OF BLY MANOR (L to R) VICTORIA PEDRETTI and BENJAMIN EVAN AINSWORTH

(Photo by Eike Schrotet, © Netflix)

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. — Ben Rolph, Discussing Film

Child actors are often not the best, if I am being honest, but Amelie Smith who plays Flora, and Benjamin Evan Ainsworth, who plays Miles, are extraordinary. — Tessa Smith, Mama’s Geeky

These two unfortunate souls, who find in Pedretti’s character an eager and solicitous au pair, are played by Amelie Bea Smith and Benjamin Evan Ainsworth; the two child performers have mastered the art of sweet-natured mischief, explaining away their chaos as the stuff of children even when it seems to originate from a deeper and more sinister wellspring. — Daniel D’Addario, Variety


Is it just as beautifully made as the original?

THE HAUNTING OF BLY MANOR - VICTORIA PEDRETTI

(Photo by Eike Schrotet, © Netflix)

Even without Flanagan behind the camera 90% of the time, this is an exquisite example of modern horror filmmaking craft, a ravishing marriage of eye-wateringly beautiful cinematography – which bears Flanagan’s signature soft focus that’s practically a brand unto itself at this point – lived-in production design, and crisp editing. Bar a few wonky CGI moments – namely the unintentionally goofy sight of a glasses-clad figure who haunts Dani – it is a visual feast to soak in per Netflix’s 4K HDR presentation. — Shaun Munro, Flickering Myth

Bly is visually stunning, weaving symbolic elements into the emotional heart of the story without feeling cheap or gimmicky. The choice to set this season in the ’80s is an interesting one, too, and the nostalgia never overtakes the narrative. There are the inevitable ’80s clothes, but it’s the context of the time period that aides one of the season’s major arcs. After all, much of Bly’s story takes place on the historic grounds of the estate, centering on a mysterious and magnetic lake surrounded by lush gardens, gothic statues, and a quaint chapel. This, in turn, allows the story more room to unfold in a single location rather than through flashbacks. Every visual choice impacts the story in some way and will likely be satisfying and poignant on rewatch. — Jenn Adams, Consequence of Sound


But wait, is this a love story or a horror series?

(Photo by Eike Schrotet, © Netflix)

Underneath the lore and horror elements, Bly Manor is predominantly a love story, keener with focusing on the complexities and secrets of the characters than shock value, so as to curate an effective narrative. You’ll be shocked at how much conversation takes place throughout the season with the lack of spectacle surprising. But some of those relationships are the most compelling aspects Flanagan unspools. The specifics of which are too spoilery to delve into. — Nate Adams, The Only Critic

But the romances that slowly form as the season progresses are indeed effective – even sweet. In fact, they work much better than the horror elements, which are often muddled and confusing in trying to create mythology – as well as rules – for the ghosts haunting Bly Manor. The love stories blossoming here are tender and sweet. And, yes, in keeping with the best gothic romance tradition, more than a bit tragic. — Chris Evangelista, SlashFilm

Bly Manor is interested in the metaphor of ghosts as regret; every phantom that’s haunting these characters is tied to some underlying remorse. The regret of staying with an abuser until it was too late. The regret of hurting a loved one, no matter how unintentional. The regret of loves not admitted in the first place. — Vinnie Mancuso, Collider


Any final thoughts?

(Photo by Eike Schrotet, © Netflix)

Flanagan’s horror is the tender sort; his great big heart beats through the scarier fare. But that heart feels appropriate for Bly Manor. It’s a less dark place than Hill House. A great, good place, even. Just beware of the hallways at night. — Lindsey Romain, Nerdist

Netflix’s The Haunting of Bly Manor lacks the terrifying punch of its more horror-charged predecessor, The Haunting of Hill House. However, creator and director Mike Flanagan is able to imbue this new chapter with rich character development and a memorable love story. — David Griffin, IGN

An old-fashioned gothic horror-romance, with almost no gore, and no gratuitous sex or nudity, The Haunting of Bly Manor neatly checks off all the holiday viewing boxes. — Gena Radcliffe, The Spool


The Haunting of Bly Manor is available on Netflix on October 9, 2020. 


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