GORE IN THE STORE
THE HAUNTING OF BLY MANOR **
Starring Victoria Pedretti, Henry Thomas, Benjamin Evan Ainsworth, Amelie Bea Smith.
Horror, US, certificate 15.
On Demand October 9th from Netflix.
It could be argued that Mike Flanagan has made his name by spinning gold from lowered expectations. Starting with the surprisingly good sequel to a not very good film based on a board game (OUIJA: ORIGIN OF EVIL) then taking Stephen King’s bedbound GERALD’S GAME to exciting and suspenseful heights he then decides to remake and adapt one of literatures and cinemas great ghost stories by rejigging it as a family saga tailor-made for the streaming age with THE HAUNTING OF HILL HOUSE. Impressive enough, but then he decides to adapt DOCTOR SLEEP. That he managed to simultaneously take one of King’s lesser works and make a sequel to what is considered one of the greatest horror films of all time and turn in a much better than expected film, especially with its lengthy directors cut, is surely a testament to this horror auteurs skills.
Let us then take a look around THE HAUNTING OF BLY MANOR then. Eagerly awaited and billed as a spiritual sequel to HILL HOUSE the results this time are sadly lacking. Directing the first episode only but remaining on board as showrunner the foundation here is unable to support its overlong story. In adapting THE TURN OF THE SCREW, Henry James ambiguous ghost story, already adapted as the 1961 classic THE INNOCENTS and several times after, as well as nodding to a number of his other stories there is sadly little that is new or surprising this time around.
The framework as ever is that of a young woman coming to Bly House to look after two young orphaned children. This time around the governess/nanny is American Dani, Pedretti, tasked to look after Miles and Flora, an exceedingly polite brother and sister duo who call the sprawling Bly Manor home alongside its staff of housekeeper Mrs. Grose, cook Owen and gardener Jamie. Everything seems idyllic but the spectre of the previous nanny Miss Jessel and chauffeur Peter Quint seems to linger the manors darkened hallways and towers. Dani soon discovers that all may not be right with the children and that everyone, alive and dead, have their own secrets that must be revealed.
Giving the works of Henry James a 21st-century upgrade is an intriguing idea but here it is stretched out to breaking point with none of the inventiveness, emotion or scares that Flanagan used in his updating of HILL HOUSE. Events only pick up the pace when several creative surprises are revealed in the fifth episode, including one that should come across as fresh to those who have read the story. Still, sadly the pace slides back to its slow state with needless and repetitious exposition. That the storyline uses a framing device that is supposed to surprise the viewer with a characters painfully obvious identity shows that the storyline is not as smart as it thinks it is, a fact that is further enforced when it introduces supernatural aspects and rules just to speed things along to an unsatisfying conclusion.
What does work best here are the emotional undercurrents which really come to the fore in the last episode. Unfortunately, it all seems a bit smothered and drowned out by the previous eight hours and a cavalcade of bad accents delivering cringey dialogue, although T’Nia Miller manages to rise above this with her portrayal of Mrs. Grose, easily the most sympathetic and interesting character here. As characters, both alive and dead, become lost in memories as past sins come to the surface it is hard not to feel that this storyline could have been better served as a film or much shorter series. Maybe it is all a ruse on Flanagan’s part to lower our expectations only to shatter them with his next project. We can but hope.