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The Lovely Ghosts 

Grief is a spirit in "The Haunting of Bly Manor"

Ultimately, every love story is also a ghost story. At some point or another, one person loses the other and then all that's left are memories and empty rooms; a never-ending ellipsis sprawling out into the future like an unfinished sentence. "The Haunting of Bly Manor" is a nine-hour-long mini-series that combines love, death and time into a bittersweet elegy for interrupted futures and dashed dreams. A love story haunted by loss.

Nine hours are spent with characters aching for something different, but too caught in the loop of their own trauma to change anything or to even know that they should. Dani Clayton (a star-making role for "You's" Victoria Pedretti) is haunted by a death she can't stop seeing over and over. She's hired to be the governess for two children at an old manor in the English countryside, but the splendor of the idyllic locale is offset by the terror she feels as she tries to get close to anyone new she meets.

Great. A creepy girl shushing me in an attic. This will turn out horribly. - EIKE SCHROTER
  • Eike Schroter
  • Great. A creepy girl shushing me in an attic. This will turn out horribly.

The kids, also touched by loss and struggling to process their grief, cling desperately to the adults in their lives, just wanting a sense of normalcy to return. The chef is losing his mother to dementia, the housekeeper was abandoned by her husband and struggles to trust anyone and the gardener walks a fine line between pain and rage that she masks with self-deprecation. Everyone at Bly is covered with cracks and being filled up one breath at a time by the lonely, jealous dead.

Bly Manor is filled with ghosts, both subtextual and literal, but none of them are as pronounced as the ones the living carry with them. Grief is a black dog with fangs and no amount of things that go bump in the night can ever be as scary as that.

From Mike Flanagan, the horror auteur behind "The Haunting of Hill House" and "Doctor Sleep," comes "The Haunting of Bly Manor," a genuinely heartbreaking ghost story loosely based on the work of Henry James, such as "The Turn of the Screw" and some of his lesser known short stories.

While "Bly Manor" is nowhere near as scary as "Hill House," it's not really meant to be, either. "Bly Manor" luxuriates in mood and dread while exploring the many kinds of love, both healthy and otherwise, and making the audience fearful not for the next jump scare, but for the characters so desperately seeking a happy ending and doomed for the opposite.

Some audiences will definitely find "Bly Manor" too slow and ponderous, especially in comparison to "Hill House," but at the end of those nine hours everything comes together so beautifully that it's hard not to look at this as one of the most perfectly constructed ghost stories of the last decade.

If every love story is also a ghost story, then every ghost story is also a romance. To be haunted by something is to allow the ephemeral to live within us and tie us to what has gone away. Flanagan and his perfect cast don't just want to scare us, they want us to gain strength from our longing and to find peace with the empty rooms and unfinished sentences. He wants to remind us that even as we are haunted by ghosts, so too are we possessed with love. That struggle can be a horror movie, for sure, but that doesn't mean it has to be scary.

The Haunting of Bly Manor
Created by Mike Flanagan
Grade: A-
Now Streaming on Netflix


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