A Good Old-Fashioned Ghost Story

‘The Haunting of Bly Manor’ on Netflix

Spooky season is upon us once again, and the time is ripe for a good old-fashioned ghost story. And The Haunting of Bly Manor on Netflix is precisely those three things. It’s good, maybe not quite as absorbing as its predecessor, The Haunting of Hill House, but prestige-worthy all the same, and it features much of the same cast and creative team. It’s old-fashioned: They’ve spun the story from Henry James’ oft-adapted The Turn of the Screw, but with rewarding twists and turns that stray mightily from the source material. And it is, most fortunately of all, a ghost story, both figurative and literal.

Stately Bly Manor looms over the English countryside. The year is 1987, which allows for some tale-within-a-tale theatrics and presumably saves us from scenes of the manor’s occupants Googling the troubled history of their residence. The manor’s nominal but absent lord, Henry Wingrave (Henry Thomas), has no end of problems. He’s a raging alcoholic, his niece and nephew recently lost their parents in an unspecified tragedy, and they’re acting a little strange on top of it. To top it all off the children’s first nanny–excuse me, au pair–had the ill fortune to die most untimely on the manor grounds. What’s an embittered souse to do?

Enter American tourist Dani (Victoria Pedretti), who’s fallen in love with England, partly because it’s just so charming and partly because it’s a continent away from her own obvious traumatic past. Dani cajoles Wingrave into giving her the job and promptly settles in at the estate with two precocious, quirky moppets, a world-weary housekeeper Hannah (T’Nia Miller), some exquisite production values, and naught else for company but the occasional visits from groundskeeper Jamie (Amelia Eve) and chef Owen (Rahul Kohli).

And, of course, at least half a dozen malevolent ghosts. Not that Bly Manor needs them! As with Hill House, showrunner Mike Flanagan and crew have crafted an intricate web of characters so traumatized they scarcely need narrative impetus to bleed out their drama all over the screen. Pedretti, in particular, has an exceptional wounded simmer that’s always threatening to boil over. If there’s a knock on ‘Bly Manor’, it’s that the emotional torture it presents borders on the melodramatic, and its troubled pasts might be too convenient. When everyone’s haunted, do you even need real ghosts? But no less impressive a narrator than Carla Gugino promised us a ghost story, and so a host of ghoulish presences pop up just often enough to keep things interesting.

The ghosts do occasionally act murderous, but nothing here is hide-under-the-covers scary, other than the notion of being interminably trapped in a house, but who really still has that fear nowadays? It’s more like nine hours of group therapy that unfortunately kills some of the participants. And while that may not seem a recommendation, trust that the creators of The Haunting of Bly Manor have crafted their show impeccably, like the titular house. This leads to a satisfying, heart-wrenching denouement. It is, in short, a good old-fashioned ghost story, and that’s more than enough.

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Ryan Kallberg

Ryan Kallberg is a writer based in southern California. His work has appeared in The Onion, The A.V. Club and on E! Online. His checkered resumé includes stints as a professional poker player, reality television producer, and sandwich assembler.

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