"The Haunting of Bly Manor" manages to be simultaneously scary and cozy, giving us the perfect spooky season binge we didn't know we needed, while impressing with a diverse and talented cast, fantastic costuming and subtle commentary on mental health awareness. I simply can't complain.
"Bly Manor" comes as the second installment in Netflix's "The Haunting" anthology series, preceded by "The Haunting of Hill House" (2018). Though "Bly Manor" features some of the actors from "Hill House" (Victoria Pedretti, Oliver Jackson-Cohen and Carla Gugino, to name a few), the series features an entirely new storyline of fresh characters, while retaining the general aesthetic and themes of the first season.
I was surprised and thrilled by the cast's diversity, with multiple main characters – T'Nia Miller as Hannah, Rahul Kohli as Owen and Tahirah Sharif as Miss Jessel – played by people of color, without their race being an explicit part of the plot. The Duvernay test has become popularized over the past few years as a race-based version of the Bechdel test, and I can say without hesitation that "Bly Manor" passes said test. In fact, it passes the Bechdel test too.
The cast's diversity continues when we discover that the heroine, Dani (Victoria Pedretti) is gay, finding a long and healthy relationship with Bly Manor gardener, Jamie (Amelia Eve). The natural portrayal of an LGBTQ relationship in a show that isn't directly targeted for LGBTQ audiences, nor included for comic relief, is quite refreshing and something that I hope continues to be normalized in mainstream television.
But, how can a show be both scary and cozy, you ask? I think the comfort comes in the fact that the majority of the main characters are inherently trustworthy. Making up the manor staff, Hannah, Owen and Jamie are a trio of kind and strong characters, always believing and supporting Dani when things go awry at the manor. For me, the most anxiety-inducing part of thrillers and horror movies is the fact that the leads are often left to their own devices, or, worse, gaslighted by other characters, forcing them into paranoia. Throughout the entirety of the season – all the jump scares, plot twists, creepy children and hauntings – Dani, and therefore, the audience, is rarely left without the comfort and protection of the trio, allowing us to relax into the creepiness without the anxiousness. Oh, and the adorable fashion of the late eighties that we get to enjoy throughout helps as well.
I may be overanalyzing, but one of the most important themes I found and enjoyed in "Bly Manor" is the idea that in the struggle with mental health that so many people face, we tend to haunt ourselves. Traumas, like ghosts, follow us, latching on until we find a way to release them. We see this in Dani's terror of the man in the mirror, which turns out to be her unprocessed guilt surrounding the death of her former fiancé, manifesting and haunting her until she is finally able to find closure by offering his glasses to the bonfire of remembrance. So much of the plot surrounds the spirits of the manor being trapped on the grounds. This is driven, essentially, by the grief and betrayal of a mother. The moral: we all have ghosts, but it's up to us to release them.
All of this is made possible by the outstanding performances of the cast. I would list the "standout" performances, but I am so blown away by the cast as a whole, I wouldn't even know where to start.
At the end of the day, "Bly Manor" lives up to its predecessor in talent, plot complexity and aesthetic. I recommend starting it on a Friday night, when you have time to spare and are ready to snuggle up and get both spooked by and attached to the characters for the weekend. It is the perfect, binge-worthy show to finish out your October with, and I hope we see more like it on Netflix in the future.