By Alyssa Aldrete
If you’re still harping on being stuck inside this Halloween, open up Netflix, start up “The Haunting of Bly Manor,” and be thankful that it could be worse: you could be one of the doomed characters conjured up in the mind of Mike Flanagan.
“Bly Manor” is the second horror miniseries to come from Flanagan and loosely follows the plot of the 1898 novella “The Turn of the Screw,” but not without adding some signature scare flares of his own.
The tale tells the story of newly-hired nanny Dani (Victoria Pedretti), who has just arrived in London and has been commissioned by Henry Wingrave (Henry Thomas) to look after his recently orphaned niece and nephew. The job brings her to Bly Manor, where she is introduced to the children, Miles (Benjamin Evan Ainsworth) and Flora (Amelie Bea Smith), as well as the other employees of the estate, which include a gardener, housekeeper, a cook and a couple of ghosts to kick it up a notch.
During the car ride into the grounds of the estate, Dani is amazed by the rolling hills and the misty lake surrounding the looming manor. Bearing an ear-to-ear smile and a sense of relief to escape her guilt-ridden past in the States, Dani shares that she is happy to be in a place like Bly. Owen, the cook who has taken on the role of driver as well, looks down his glasses into the rearview with a straight face, remarking that the town is just “one big gravity well and it’s easy to get stuck.”
So begins the chilling idea that encompasses the supernatural journey ahead for the new nanny and all those residing at Bly Manor. Their tales are told through both flashbacks and present-day moments, revealing the sinister happenings at the home.
At first glance, it seems that “Bly Manor” may not be the fright-fest that its predecessor was. However, assuming that and listening to the “not-as-scary” claims would be a disservice to the genius that Flanagan and his crew work so hard to perfect in this new series.
The ensemble cast and the ideas given to them by Flanagan are essentially doing what “American Horror Story” set out to do, but they are doing it better. There are a handful of familiar faces returning in this series (Pedretti, Oliver Jackson-Cohen, and Kate Siegel), but with entirely different roles to take on, and they do it tremendously.
English-born actor Jackson-Cohen steals his scenes portraying Peter Quint, with an uncanny Scottish accent and a range of emotional scenes that have you teetering between “is he or isn’t he the bad guy?”
Alongside his performance are the two other standout roles of Miles and Flora. Smith (Flora) and Ainsworth (Miles) take the classic creepy kid roles and run with them. Usually, these roles are reliant on taught body-language and director’s cues, but what these kids bring to their roles, I simply feel can’t be taught.
At such a young age, Smith and Ainsworth accomplish lengthy scenes filled with split-personality traits and the verbiage to go with it, making it seem like you are presented with an entirely different set of children each time the camera pans back to them.
And yes, avid watchers of “Hill House” will notice that there are no uses of hidden figures in the shadows, no imagery quite as shocking as the Bent-Neck Lady, and no ghostly attacks each episode.
Instead, “Bly Manor” presents a new concept of slow-burn horror, which makes it even scarier. Every horror fan wants the jump scares that “Hill House” brought, but everyone appreciative of the genre wants those feelings that creep back up over your ear when you turn the lights off in your house at night.
Flanagan has joined the ranks of directors like Jordan Peele (“Get Out”) and Ari Aster (“Hereditary”) in making his mark on the culture of horror by bringing nuanced styles to the table. In replacement of your expected ghastly figure in the first episode, there is just something in the way that what you’re seeing is not what it seems.
There’s something chilling in the way the typical person-in-the-mirror ruse is not what you’d ever expect. There’s something disturbing in the way Miles and Flora speak just a little too grown up. And there’s something that makes the hair on the back of your neck stand up during a monologue of Owen’s where he reveals a sinister truth without missing a beat.
Even more chilling is the fact that when you do finish this series (in the middle of a quarantined pandemic, no less), you may just have to check for clues to make sure you aren’t stuck inside your own gravity well.