"Let’s just get this out of the way: the follow-up to Netflix’s excellent horror series The Haunting of Hill House is nowhere near as scary as its predecessor," says Andrew Webster. "The sequel, dubbed The Haunting of Bly Manor, is still about a house filled with ghosts and people dealing with terrible grief. And while those ideas can be terrifying on their own, that’s not really the point of the show. Instead, Bly Manor is more of a narrative puzzle box — one where ghosts and the afterlife are just another part of the mystery. The new show has at least a few things in common with Hill House: a sprawling, haunted mansion; a cast of characters each dealing with some form of grief or loss; and a premise loosely based on a classic horror story. (In this case, it’s Henry James’ 1898 novella The Turn of the Screw.) Even some of the same cast has returned, this time in new roles (and with new accents). Both stories are about families: in Hill House it’s a traditional nuclear family, whereas in Bly Manor it’s one that comes together through shared trauma. These things connect the two series. But it’s not long before Bly Manor establishes its own flavor."
Horror is never the focus in Bly Manor: "The follow-up to Mike Flanagan’s The Haunting of Hill House is more unfocused than its predecessor, attempting to build an operatic narrative with detailed backstories for seemingly every character, but it possesses the same sort of devastating emotional intensity seen in the previous Netflix series," says Jim Vortel. "What it doesn’t have, though, is likely to disappoint a certain chunk of the audience: The scares. Horror, as it turns out, was never really the focus here—the events of the series are described in its opening moments as a 'ghost story,' but to conflate that with a 'horror story' is an inaccurate framing. There’s a smattering of jump scares, sure, but the goal here was seemingly not to suffuse every episode of The Haunting of Bly Manor with the persistent dread that was present in Hill House, but to tell a richly emotional melodrama on love, jealousy, selflessness, responsibility and trauma. Suffice to say: Netflix is marketing a horror story because we’re approaching Halloween, but you might be better off expecting a supernatural romance with overtones of Greek tragedy."
In many ways, Bly Manor’s storyline feels more complete than that of Hill House: "Mike Flanagan, the showrunner and writer of Netflix’s new limited series The Haunting of Bly Manor, has always loved hope more than fear," says Aja Romano. "This trait makes his prolific work in the horror genre, including Bly Manor’s predecessor The Haunting of Hill House, initially baffling. Over the years, however, I’ve come to realize that playing Flanagan’s game means approaching his horror stories not as horror but as literary family sagas that just happen to be lovingly crafted over the bones of ghost stories. That approach definitely worked well for Hill House, which was excellent as a family drama but less successful as a horror tale. And minus a few caveats, it works for Bly Manor, which, like its predecessor, is a modern-ish tale (now set in 1987) based on — or, more accurately, loosely scaffolded over — a famous 20th-century ghost story. Like Hill House, the series is gently obsessed with families — this time including found families as well as nuclear — and with death."
Bly Manor is a somewhat deflating disappointment after the pleasantly surprising Hill House: "The follow-up series, which shares with its predecessor a sensibility, a high-flying literary inspiration (the work of Henry James this time), a crisp and pristine visual aesthetic and some cast members, never takes flight in the way genre devotees might expect," says Daniel D'Addario. "For one thing, it’s too rarely really scary; for another, more important one, it gets confounded by its own story, doing something that’s less like toggling between corners of a complicated tale and more like losing threads. By the time the series concludes, after some nine hours, it’s fair to wonder what, exactly, the journey had been for."
Bly Manor is too scared to be scary: "The ghostly premise seems like the perfect next step for the beloved horror series," says Alison Foreman. "And yet, the specters of Henry James, Hill House, and other successful genre anthologies haunt its execution. The result is an excellent idea weighed down by imitation and insecurity. It’s watchable, certainly — but not anywhere near the fearless, ethereal experience Flanagan fans have come to expect."
How Bly Manor balances love and ghosts: "When we fall in love with someone, we're creating a ghost for ourselves later," says Mike Flanagan. "One way or the other, the relationship will go away. And then you're going to be left with whatever depth of love you felt for someone. That our truest loves are ghost stories that we're forging for ourselves, or for them if we're the first ones to go, was a haunting idea that seemed really ripe for exploration.”