The Haunting of Bly Manor: Horror with a Sense of Heart

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The follow-up to the successful ‘The Haunting of Hill House’ series, The Haunting of Bly Manor is nothing but a ‘perfectly splendid’ ghost story with a strong sense of heart. The series, loosely based on Henry James’ novella The Turn of The Screw, became available to stream on Netflix on Friday, October 9.

Although The Haunting Of Bly Manor has at least a few things in common with The Haunting of Hill House including a brooding mansion, a similar cast of grief-stricken characters and a tale of traditional families; it may not be as scary as its predecessor. However, together with its elements of mystery, love, and tragedy, Bly Manor establishes its own flavour.

A young American woman Dani (Victoria Pedretti), fleeing her tragic past finds herself caring for two orphaned children on an English estate. Upon her arrival, the governess sees figures of a man and woman she suspects may be spirits. She learns from the grim housekeeper, Hannah Grose (T’Nia Miller) that her predecessor, Miss Jessel (Tahirah Sharif), had an affair with another servant, Peter Quint (Oliver Jackson-Cohen) and both died. They also seemed to have had an unhealthy attachment to the children Flora (Amelie Bea Smith) and Miles (Benjamin Evan Ainsworth), which is evident in various frames where the children can be seen speaking in adult tongues and being back to normal in the blink of an eye. The Manor also gives residence to the cook Owen (Rahul Kohli), and groundskeeper Jamie (Amelia Eve), who together form their own close-knit family.

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The ghosts, appear rather infrequently from different time frames, being tucked away in the painful memories of past. They are seen ‘dream-hopping’ to previous events while still in the present ostensibly. The series reinforces the idea that the “dead aren’t gone”, suggesting those we love never leave us, even in death. Those who die at Bly, never really leave, they are stuck. The children, Flora and Miles devise ways to keep track of the ghosts and protect the adults from the most dreadful among them- the white-gowned, long-haired, faceless lady of the lake who drags her victims into her watery home on Bly’s grounds.

In the later episodes, unfolds the saga of two sisters Viola (Kate Siegel) and Perdita (Katie Parker) that dates back to late 17th century. Their cousin, Arthur is initially smitten by Perdita, but his attention swiftly turns to Viola. After the elder sister grows ill, Perdita takes it upon herself to put her out of her misery by suffocating her. While it appeared to be a mercy killing, it was actually the culmination of years of resentment. Once Perdita opens the chest of jewels and clothing that were saved for Viola’s daughter, Viola’s spirit strangles her sister to death. After the younger sister dies, Arthur believes the trunk of fine garments is cursed and throws it into the lake. As a result, Viola becomes the lady of the lake and creates the gravitational pull of Bly Manor. Since then, all those who die at Bly’s grounds, get stuck. The ghosts eventually lose their faces due to their memories fading over time.

The characters particularly Dani (Victoria Pedretti), playing the protagonist, steals every frame. The theme of love and loss, centring around a series of revelations remains the best part. The atmosphere, though not eerie, evokes a feeling of trepidation. The ghostly appearances being portrayed as demons from the past rather than actual demons, the sad gazes of children and the helplessness on Dani’s face throughout the series make Bly Manor hypnotic as a whole. The visual style and cinematography also help build tension due to a distinctive ambience.

Nevertheless, love stories remain the highest points of the Haunting of Bly Manor and the sole reason why the viewer is likely to be left sadder than scared. The groundskeeper Jamie (Amelia Eve), the narrator of the story, confesses towards the end that a love story is the same as a ghost story. In the closing scene, she leaves the door ajar and a light dimly on in hopes of catching a glimpse of Dani, because “dead doesn’t mean gone”.

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