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Blu-ray Review: The Haunting of Bly Manor

November 16, 2021

By John Corrado

The Haunting of Bly Manor is creator Mike Flanagan’s followup to his 2018 Netflix miniseries The Haunting of Hill House. This second instalment in the anthology series brings back some of the same actors in different roles to tell a whole new, completely unconnected story.

The series, which premiered on Netflix in 2020 and received a Blu-ray release last month, follows Dani Clayton (Victoria Pedretti). Dani is an American woman living in England in the late 1980s, who is hired by businessman Henry Wingrave (Henry Thomas) to look after his niece and nephew, Flora (Amelie Bea Smith) and Miles (Benjamin Evan Ainsworth), at the family’s country house.

What Dani doesn’t know, but soon discovers, is that the house is haunted by a number of ghosts. The kids have recently lost their parents, and are acting strangely. Miles behaves a bit inappropriately towards Dani, and Flora sees visions of their past caregiver, Rebecca Jessel (Tahirah Sharif), who drowned in the lake.

Like how The Haunting of Hill House was loosely adapted from Shirley Jackson’s novel of the same name, The Haunting of Bly Manor is loosely adapted from Henry James’s 1898 novella The Turn of the Screw. And I do say loosely. The series begins in modern day with an unnamed woman (Carla Gugino) telling the story of an au pair who goes to work at a haunted house to the guests at a wedding, and it unfolds entirely in flashbacks narrated by Gugino (using a suspect British accent).

I was admittedly somewhat underwhelmed by The Haunting of Hill House, and I had similar issues with this series as well. Like Hill House, it should be specified that Bly Manor isn’t really horror, and instead operates more in the space of a melodramatic romance that just so happens to have ghosts in it. The nine episode series focuses more on the the relationships that Dani develops with the housekeeper Hannah (T’Nia Miller), the cook Owen (Rahul Kohli), and the gardener Jamie (Amelia Eve), and the writing often feels overly maudlin and sentimental.

While Bly Manor starts off with a certain amount of intrigue, and there is a somewhat effective twist partway through that does allow the series to explore the concept of memory in an interesting way, it simply goes on far longer than it needs to. The story it tells doesn’t need to drag on for nine episodes, and could have been condensed into a shorter miniseries or even a feature film. Like in Hill House, the episodes are padded out by lengthy, overwritten monologues, and the show has a tendency to over-explain things in a way that dulls its impact.

The biggest culprit is the eighth chapter (The Romance of Certain Old Clothes), a black-and-white flashback episode that feels painfully overlong. The narration tries to find profound emotion through repetition, but it repeats the same lines over and over again to the point that they become hair-pullingly tedious. It’s an hour of pure exposition that could have been woven into one of the other episodes, and it completely throws off the momentum the series is trying to build up at the end, even repeating the same cliffhanger from the previous chapter.

The series fully dips into melodramatic soap opera territory in its time-hopping final episode, and how satisfying you find the payoff will all depend on how emotionally invested you were in everything that came before. I was actually somewhat onboard with the series for the first few episodes, and there are a few effective moments of drama and spookiness throughout, but it simply feels like it drags on longer than it needs to. If you are already a fan of the series, then the Blu-ray comes recommend, but casual viewers can stick to checking it out on streaming.

Bonus Features (Blu-ray):

The Blu-ray set includes all nine episodes spread evenly over three discs, with the addition of individual commentary tracks on two of the episodes and a pair of featurettes on the third disc. There is no digital copy in the package.

Audio Commentary by Director/Creator Mike Flanagan (Episode 1 – The Great Good Place)

Audio Commentary by Director Axelle Carolyn (Episode 8 – The Romance of Certain Old Clothes)

Home For The Haunted: The Ghosts of Bly Manor (11 minutes, 45 seconds): Flanagan talks about the various ghosts and apparitions seen in the series, and also discusses the themes about memory and death in a way that brings them into sharper focus.

Welcome to Bly Manor (11 minutes, 15 seconds): A more general look at the production, with Flanagan talking about adapting the original story and setting it in the 1980s, as well as shooting in Vancouver and using a digital façade for Bly Manor, with the actors performing in front of shipping crates covered by a giant blue screen and the exterior of the house added later in post.

The Haunting of Bly Manor is a Paramount Home Entertainment release. It’s 484 minutes and rated 14A.

Street Date: October 12th, 2021

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