With necks snapping, faceless figures and creepy children in the trailer, the producers of “Bly Manor” made the show seem like a horror series. After binging the series last week on Netflix, I found it to be more of an 1800s gothic romance, but mystical nonetheless.
“The Haunting of Bly Manor” certainly has scary, tense moments and a very ominous atmosphere, but the show is mostly a series of romantic and supernatural events. Does this mean I disliked it? No, but it was not as scary as I expected it to be. I definitely enjoyed watching it, which surprised me. Normally, I don’t enjoy love stories too much, because they all seem to play out the same to me. However, “The Haunting of Bly Manor” adds in touches of horror which kept me interested in the story and excited to watch more.
In horror, I find the scariest pieces of media to come from the unexplained. In some of my favorite horror media, like “The Lighthouse” or “Eraserhead,” you don’t know what’s going on until you watch it a few times, and that’s scary. Not only are you scared because the main characters are in peril, but you are also scared because you don’t know why everything is happening, just like the characters.
“The Haunting of Bly Manor” handles this well in the first few episodes. Occasionally, the main characters will see someone who isn’t there in a mirror, or something will happen out-of-focus in the background, or the two children at the manor do something very strange and very creepy. While all this happens, the audience is left frightened, but curious. Who is the man with the round glasses in the mirror? Why does a crack in the walls appear and disappear throughout the house? Are the children protecting the other characters or trying to hurt them? All of this is explained quite clearly later in the show, which removes the horror aspects, but there is still plot to unravel.
A complaint that some people have made with any Netflix series is the over-inclusion of LGBTQ+ characters. I don’t see much merit to that complaint, and I only bring it up because Dani, the protagonist for the majority of “The Haunting of Bly Manor,” is a lesbian, and this is revealed as a major plot point partway into the show. I would say “The Haunting of Bly Manor” does a great job of representation overall. One of Dani’s main struggles is that she is lesbian, and it’s handled quite well. Her struggle with her sexuality is part of her character arc.
Alternatively, characters like Hannah and Owen are non-white, but their race doesn’t define their characters. Their existence shows that non-white characters can exist without their race being a major plot point. If Hannah or Owen were white, the plot of the show and their struggles as characters would not change. They are not written with their race as part of their identity.
While talking about the writing, I have to talk about the fantastic acting from everyone in the show as well. It would be hard to find child actors that can play such strange characters as Miles and Flora Wingrave, but Benjamin Evan Ainsworth and Amelie Bea Smith both do a great job of showing their characters’ range. And, specifically in the fifth episode, entitled “The Altar of the Dead”— one of my favorites— T’Nia Miller’s performance as Hannah Grose and Rahul Kohli’s performance as Owen Sharma are both fantastic and keeps the audience very invested. The recurring scenes and interesting writing techniques are put into practice very well by the both of them.
“The Haunting of Bly Manor” is exactly what it says it is in the Netflix description: a gothic romance. Although it definitely has some tense, horror-filled moments, the series sticks mainly to drama and intriguing plot twists. This contrast between horror and love story is explained very well in the final episode, as well as every other major plot point the audience witnesses until then. As I’ve said, I personally don’t like when the plot of a story is wrapped up perfectly with a bow and everything is clear; ambiguity can be much more frightening. So, if you want a dramatic romance, with a hint of horror, “The Haunting of Bly Manor” is great for you.