The second season of the anthology which began with ‘The Haunting of Hill House’ has some stellar moments but overkill in terms of number of episodes and highlights
‘The Haunting of Hill House’ was not merely a splendid adaptation of the seminal novel about haunted houses, written by Shirley Jackson, but it was also the confirmation of the talent of Mike Flanagan to delve into our domestic fears: like a good part of his cinematographic work, the series made use of horror genre structures to reflect on what is disturbing and cathartic in family wounds.
The first thing to mention about ‘The Haunting of Bly Manor’ is that there is a reorientation of the narrative foundations, because the source of inspiration, the literary universe of Henry James and ‘The Turn of the Screw’ in particular, would not have delivered a result in reproducing the tone and methods of the visit to Hill House. Therefore, we are now faced with a very different series both in substance and in form. In fact, it’s not even strictly horror, but part of the genre’s traditional breeding ground to discuss love and loss, and also about the impossibility of overcoming our worst ghosts: those within us. In this season, the protagonist is a nanny who takes on the challenge of taking charge of the education of two brothers who have lost their parents, and soon discovers that the dead never actually abandon the home.
Once again, Flanagan showcases his knowledge of the many facets of the genre and his risqué approach has to be acknowledged when modernizing the classics. In this sense, it’s both a tribute to the legacy of Henry James and an evolution of his technique. Yet it’s different from ‘The Haunting of Hill House’, where suspense and psychological portrait were fused with an unappealable solidity, in Bly Manor things don’t go so smoothly. At times it plays very well with the perception of space and the palpitation of the supernatural in everyday life, but this season things get somewhat rickety, as it becomes long, redundant and, above all, over-reflective.
One of its key issues lies in that the characters verbalize their thought process far too much and the director highlights the twists ad infinitum, as if not quite trusting audiences’ ability to pick up on the game of echoes and mirrors that unites the spectra of past and present. It has some great moments thanks to the use of perspective and this feeling that something invisible resides within the setting, but it also overuses repetitions, of showing the trick over and over again so that we’re aware of the war of words between life and death. It isn’t scary, as many insist, but then it never intended to be either. It’s commendable that he blows all expectations out of the water by placing himself somewhere between melancholy and romanticism, but Flanagan has forgotten the value of the cutting-room floor (nine episodes were entirely unnecessary) and that the line between sobriety and boredom can be very fine indeed.