Netflix original The Haunting of Hill House (2018), directed by Mike Flanagan, took the streaming world by storm when it was released. Ten episodes of creepy dark and deeply detailed storylines created a haunting experience for the audience, even days after finishing the series. But how does its successor, The Haunting of Bly Manor (2020) hold up to the hype?
**DISCLAIMER: There will be spoilers for both series in this review, so if you haven’t watched them yet, hold off on reading further! Both series were adapted from works of literature: The Turn of the Screw by Henry James (1898) and The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson (1959).
So where to begin? I have a standard rubric that I like to use for rating films (#throwback to podcast film review days). The following categories will be rated on a score of 1-5 with 5 being the highest: Strength of Theme, Continuity, Pace, Character Arc and Ending. I usually include Realism and Special Effects, but since both series are created by the same director, those categories would be like splitting hairs. Let’s get started!
Strength of Theme
Hill House 5/5 – Throughout Hill House, the storyline and theme stay strong: it’s about family. The Crains, purchase Hill House intending on renovating it, experience ghostly encounters almost constantly throughout the show. Bouncing between childhood and adulthood, the family remains mostly intact, recalling their memories of the last fateful night at Hill House.
Bly Manor 3/5 – Bly Manor’s theme was a little harder to understand as the ‘family’ is not blood related or altogether very close. Two children, orphaned, are looked after by an au pair, gardener and chef while their paternal uncle stays at arms length. Throughout the story, the children are close and bonded, while not always responding warmly to the others in the pseudo-family.
Hill House 5/5 – The continuity in Hill House is *chefs kiss* perfection. One of the reasons I loved Hill House so immensely was the dedication to detail throughout the series. Not to mention, the reveal of the Bent-Neck Lady was one of the best things I’ve seen in years. Even while bouncing between the past and present, everything was cohesive and made sense.
Bly Manor 3/5 – I was left a little confused with the set up of the show until episode 5. This made it hard to determine the continuity throughout the show because it felt very muddled in the timeline. With characters being possessed by other characters, it was a little hard to keep continuity together: who were they really, themselves or the ghost?
Hill House 4/5 – Hill House keeps a steady pace throughout the episodes, obviously ramping up for the final two. There was never a moment where I was checking my phone or felt bored with the story. With so many family members experiencing their own traumas, there were plenty of interest points to focus on.
Bly Manor 3/5 – Maybe it’s because of the expectation to recreate Hill House, maybe it’s because of the source material, but Bly Manor was painful to get into. With Hill House, I was locked in almost immediately whereas Bly Manor didn’t catch my full attention until the third or fourth episode. This caused the pace to feel slow in the beginning, then full speed at the halfway point, only to slow down again towards the end.
Hill House 4/5 – The character arcs in Hill House weren’t necessarily good character arcs. It was more an ‘arc of understanding’. Each character came to terms with what happened at Hill House in their childhoods by the end of the series. While some characters, like Steve, had a mild tale of redemption, so much of Hill House was based on understanding and accepting their shared trauma. Luke is probably the only character that had a visible arc – from junkie to sober – but it was still slight and a secondary feature in the total story.
Bly Manor 4/5 – The most poignant character arcs were with the au pairs and the paternal uncle – Rebecca Jessel, Dani Clayton and Henry Wingrave. The au pairs journeys were similar in structure: losing a loved one, accepting the loss and ultimately sacrificing yourself for loved ones no matter the cost. Henry’s journey was a little more subdued. He went from being a standoffish, ostentatious jerk to a loving father-figure to Miles and Flora through the acceptance of his paternity and fighting his inner demons.
Hill House 5/5 – At the end of Hill House, the story felt complete and without leaving the audience wondering, ‘what if?’. Each of the Crain children were able to close the Hill House chapter on their lives and move forward. I am very judgmental of the way a show or movies end and this ended in the best way. You get to see the family two years after Nell’s death, seeing how they’ve all adjusted and grown.
Bly Manor 3/5 – The ending to Bly Manor felt rushed. The main negative spirit, Viola Willoughby a.k.a. the Lady in the Lake, wasn’t revealed until episode 8. First appearing at length in episode 5 with Peter, you were left wondering who she was and why she was there. The Bent-Neck Lady twist was fully revealed in episode 5, allowing for more time in the story to deal with the revelation in comparison to The Lady in the Lake. Additionally, the ending was prolonged by following the relationship between Jamie and Dani for over 15 years, (don’t get me wrong, I stan them fully), but it felt disconnected from a lot of what happened.
Final Scores: Hill House – 23/25 | Bly Manor – 16/25
At the end of the day, I mistakenly went into Bly Manor expecting the same level of creepy, scary and jumpy storylines as Hill House and was overall underwhelmed by the experience. Let’s break that down a little more.
Did I hate it? No; there were some amazingly emotional and deep moments, interesting styles of showcasing memories and great acting.
Will I watch it again? Absolutely. Hill House required two full watches before I was able to confidently say that I caught all of the small details and background ghosts. Would I watch it more than a second time? Probably not.
Would I recommend Bly Manor? Yes, but I would caution the viewer to not hope for the same level of satisfaction as experienced watching Hill House.