Where Hill House was a body—living, breathing, heaving—Bly Manor is a vessel. A vessel that houses a collection of love stories, romantic or otherwise; some are broken and twisting, while some aim to make people and things whole. The manor holds them, these stories, even as the past fades away and memories begin to splinter. It may be a place soaked in death and loss, but it is filled with just as much tenderness and warmth. It is the people, it seems, who are the haunted ones. The house simply welcomes them in.
Dani Clayton (Victoria Pedretti) is soft and nervous; her trauma lies beneath the surface, waiting with bated breath for the moment she finally cracks open. She insists that she is not running away, but a shadow resembling something like grief clings to her still. She has been hired to look after the two orphaned children of Bly Manor, Flora (Amelie Bea Smith) and Miles (Benjamin Evan Ainsworth), who both have equally (though differently) curious dispositions. As sweet as they can be, they display plenty of unsettling behaviors, enough to build an undeniable sense of foreboding. Children always seem more prone to the supernatural, their malleability leaving them open to seeing things that adults are quick to rationalize. Perhaps this is why they seem so eerily in tune with the strangeness of their home.
The narrative moves slowly, stretching itself along patiently, and each character is molded carefully, their complexities gently unspooled as time lengthens and dips. We watch as they begin to fray at the edges, consumed by desperation and a kind of love that threatens to ruin them as much as it is beautiful. Ultimately, it is the relationships between them that give the story its strength, heightened by a series of wonderfully compelling performances from the entire cast. Aside from Pedretti and the children, who are all captivating, T’Nia Miller as Hannah Grose and Oliver Jackson-Cohen as Peter Quint were particularly memorable.
Visually, the show is stunning. Everything is swathed in a dreamy sort of shroud; the light sweet and gentle around the edges. The quiet of the manor is filled with the unknown and the unsettling, squatting between your ribs and drawing tension across every scene no matter how soft. Rather than ghosts trailing their phantom bodies through aged hallways, there is blackness and shadow and an unplaceable sort of strangeness. It swells throughout the manor, particularly at night. This is a terror that creeps slowly, in secrets and small anxious moments, until it becomes suffocating and nightmarish.
The way creator Mike Flanagan creates horror that is so comforting and full of warmth—while still incredibly unnerving—is enviable. It is the kind of horror that destabilizes and pulls emotion, unbidden, from your chest. The paranormal becomes soothing and death is shaped into something almost inviting, a relief from the heavy traumas of the world of the living, from the lingering touches of sadness and grief. Memory, and the way it dissipates as time marches onward, becomes something undeniably important, as central to each entangled love story as anything else. As reality fractures and darkness sets in, memories form a sort of touchstone for several of the characters; Flora describes it as being tucked away. Slipping back seems to function as a coping mechanism and something to hide in—though for some characters, returning to their memories has a much more traumatizing effect. The fading is what is most critical, the things we leave behind, intentionally or not, and the ways in which we ourselves are left behind.
The conclusion is utterly stunning, as cathartic as it is agonizing. It is so drenched in love, a world ending sort of love that reminds us of our own frail mortality and the way time eventually captures us all. There is one question that burns until the end: what can we hold onto when we know we will be forgotten?