Netflix found a good thing in October 2018 with its original series The Haunting of Hill House, inspired by the Shirley Jackson novel. It looked fantastic, with the titular home playing a major role, and impressive acting carrying the story along with Henry Thomas of E.T. fame, Carla Gugino and Timothy Hutton. Based on that success, Netflix would be crazy not to stretch things out but decided to go the American Horror Story route, anthologizing the series as a Haunting of franchise and bringing back several of the same actors in different roles.
Two years later, we’re in a manor, not a house, because England. Based on the 1898 Henry James novella The Turn of the Screw, this nine-episode series brings back Thomas and Gugino as well as Victoria Pedretti and Oliver Jackson-Cohen, but the Victorian gothic ghost story has been updated to the 1980s. Pedretti stars as former teacher Dani Clayton, who talks the drunk and distant Henry Wingrave (Thomas) into hiring her as the au pair for his niece Flora (Amelie Bea Smith) and nephew Miles (Benjamin Evan Ainsworth) at his huge country home. Wingrave will be keeping his distance in London and doesn’t want to be bothered with their care but does seemingly want the best for them since they’ve been affected by the death of their parents and then their last governess, Miss Jessel (Tahirah Sharif), who didn’t live very long in her new job.
The haunted house roll call also includes the live-in housekeeper Mrs. Grose (T’Nia Miller), chef Owen (Fahul Kohli) and gardener/handywoman Jamie (Ameilia Eve). With a combination of conversation and flashback, we start to learn more about the unfortunate Miss Jessel as well as Peter Quint (Jackson-Cohen), the nefarious employee who wooed Miss Jessel before taking off with a bunch of Wingrave’s money. Meanwhile, Dani is plagued by ghastly visions, and the children are as creepy as one might expect.
Though it looks nice, The Haunting of Bly Manor is too slow for its own good. It is perfectly splendid to skimp on scares if you can make up for it with atmosphere and character development but instead, we slip into soap opera; I expected to see Barnabas Collins show up with googly eyes for Mrs. Grose. And though she was very good in Hill House, Pedretti’s Dani is more annoying than sympathetic. We will see if another dwelling is haunted in 2021 or 2022; if so, let’s hope it’s a bit more haunted than Bly Manor.
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