The Haunting of Bly Manor: Ghosts need rules
Image Courtesy of TellyMix
By Emily Webb-Mortimer
Now I think people that try and apply logic to horror are annoying, that being said: ghosts need rules. Tim Burton did not give us “The Handbook for the Recently Undead” for us to just ignore it. Now I’m not saying that every ghost story needs to be subject to the kind of bureaucratic systems shown in that king of ghost stories that is Beetlejuice, but they need rules nonetheless, or you fall into traps of deus ex machinas, making it up as you go along and other irritating narrative holes. Rules are what is desperately lacking in “the spiritual sequel” to Netflix’s 2018 hit The Haunting of Hill House, the daringly named The Haunting of Bly Manor. Now I’m a horror junkie, and if there is one thing I know to be true, it is that as wild and weird of concepts you can think up, nothing, but nothing can beat a good old fashioned ghost story (the film Ghost Stories not withstanding). This is why it is so upsetting when a great concept of a great ghost story is executed so… underwhelmingly. Truth be told I did enjoy the show, there is a lot to love, but it could have been really truly great which is what is so annoying.
Of the nine episode series, it is only in the last three or four that it gets really exciting, but it is also when it gets really exciting that it gets more confusing. These ghosts do not abide by many conceivable rules, the only ones that really exist are only revealed to us in the penultimate episode and even then they are evasive and lack definition. However, this episode is without a doubt a diamond in the ruff. This episode goes back to the true roots of a ghost story and narration - a tale of love, loss, betrayal, woe and casual incest. It’s simple, creepy, set in a much more interesting period than the 1980s and heart breaking in that wonderful, horrible, special way that the Haunting of universe mastered so well in both Hill House and Bly Manor. It wasn’t until I watched it again with my housemates that I figured everything out and it finally made sense. Now as anyone that has met me knows, I’m a big fan of re-watching things and finding things I missed the first time. However, there is a difference between finding new and exciting things you missed and having had to see it once already to understand some of the major plot points.
But I promised some good too, what’s good about this show? Well its scares are expert, whether they’re the creepy background things that seem abstractly unsettling before your mind clocks what’s happening or those true to form jump scares -this show knows its horror. That’s not even to mention the existential dread that’s produced watching each death and ghost. The lore (once you’ve figured it out) is exciting, weird, brilliant, and heart-breaking, all the things you want it to be. The set pieces are beautiful and spooky and much of the brilliant cast of The Haunting of Hill House carries their brilliance onto Bly Manor. Well, that is but for one thing: those bloody accents. Americans need to be classically trained in the English accent before they even begin to sound right, it would seem. The biggest sinners when it comes to this are Carla Guigino who narrates the story (about half way through you’re going to gasp and say “oh that’s a northern accent”), Henry Thomas as Henry Wingrave and Kate Siegel as Viola Willoughby, though the latter was only in one episode. It’s small and forgivable but my lord does it grate on the ears after a while.
The themes in it of love and loss are touching and affecting as we’ve come to expect from Mike Flanagan - the showrunner of both Bly Manor and Hill House – and though it is beautiful and well done, I can’t help but think Hill House did it a little better with the Crain family. That being said, you should not compare the two shows, respect each as its own entity, its own story and its own soul and you will enjoy it a lot better. I just can’t help it, but don’t be like me, I’m a terrible person to emulate.
It really is a good and rewatchable show, and though little things can be irritating, overall it is all the right kinds of creepy, beautiful, haunting and unforgettable. Give it a chance whether you like horror or not, the story alone is worth it.
The Haunting of Bly Manor is now streaming on Netflix.