Based on Henry James' book The Turn of the Screw, Mike Flanagan's The Haunting of Bly Manor takes the form of a classic ghost story, told at a party with guests huddled around a blazing fire. The narrator of the story (Carla Gugino) takes us back to 1987 to hear the tale of an American nanny (Victoria Pedretti), referred to as an au pair, as she begins looking after two children in the fictional English town of Bly. The au pair, the children, and the titular Bly Manor each come with a past tangled in mystery and tragedy that accumulates in a somewhat familiar setting to fans of the series - an old spooky mansion filled to the brim with supernatural entities.
Emphasis on jump scares and shock are swapped for a dark quiet feeling of dread that looms over the series
This is not simply a rehashed Hill House, Bly Manor can absolutely stand on its own two feet, complementing rather than copying its predecessor. The tone and atmosphere continue as though they are two chapters from the same book. Ghosts lurk in the background of the majority of scenes waiting to be spotted and powerful, character-driven horror is manifested. However, the narrative, structure and even the way Bly Manor scares you is altered, emphasis on jump scares and shock is swapped for a dark quiet feeling of dread that looms over the series. Rather than a cacophony of ghosts, each one is given enough time to feel like a real presence in the house. However, the compromise is that Bly Manor is somewhat less scary than Hill House in a traditional sense. There is nothing that lives up to the fright given by the infamous car jumpscare in Hill House and no creature designs in the likes of Mr Smiley.
Unfortunately, Bly Manor succumbed to a fate that Hill House succeeded in avoiding, death by poor child acting. The two children are successful in achieving the creepy behaviour that you expect from any child in a horror franchise, but the posh, Mary Poppins-esque Victorian accent used by Flora (Amelie Bea Smith) is immersion-breaking at best and downright irritating at worst. When surrounded by actors who are delivering outstanding performances such as Victoria Pedretti and T'Nia Miller, Flora sticks out like a sore thumb. Admittedly, after the first episode, the accent becomes less and less of a problem and the show doesn't suffer too much as a whole.
If you are looking for a good ghost story to give you the chills as the nights draw in, The Haunting of Bly Manor is the perfect show for that campfire feeling. However, if you are looking for a fright fest of jumpscares, gruesome creatures and gore, this is not that kind of horror show.