The Haunting of Bly Manor movie review (2020)

The first of many slack mysteries in “The Haunting of Bly Manor” (based on the works of Henry James, primarily “The Turn of the Screw”) involves an an American au pair in England, who lands a job taking care of two kids who live in a giant mansion, and whose parents are mysteriously dead. Why did Dani (Victoria Pedretti) leave the country, and what truly happened to the parents of Flora (Amelie Bea Smith) and Miles (Benjamin Evan Ainsworth)? Dani gets hired by the family’s uncle Henry (Henry Thomas, a “Hill House” alum, now with an English accent) who himself has his own demons, related to the disappearance of his brother. Bly Manor is a giant burden to him, even in thought, and he prefers to spend his time in his office alone, drinking. 

From Dani’s arrival, Flora and Miles exhibit different types of creepy kid behavior. But they’ve seen a lot, given that the previous au pair Rebecca (Tahirah Sharif) died on the property six months previous, so everyone kind of rolls with this behavior. Flora is the more whimsical of the two, in her meticulousness with her the dollhouse and its strange figures, or the way that she stares at something over Dani’s shoulder, goes silent, and then reverts back to to her outward pleasantries. Her older brother Miles, on the other hand, exhibits more inappropriate behavior, like peering into Dani’s bedroom as she changes, or touching her hair in a way a sleazy first date might. The two kids initially make for some mild anxiety in the story, especially as they terrorize the extremely friendly Dani, while mud prints start to appear on the stairs, and a weird figure flashes in random reflections. 

One of the big surprises is that the people on the grounds are themselves entirely not shady. Yes, there’s the shadowy face of an infamous family associate named Peter Quint (Oliver Jackson-Cohen, also from “Hill House”), but the other Bly workers offer a type of respite; a sunny, makeshift family of have-nots who immediately welcome Dani. Each has their own melancholy, as with housekeeper Hannah (T’Nia Miller), the most powerful woman in the manor, but also one who carries herself the most delicately. Dani is initially introduced to Bly by driver and cook Owen (Rahul Kohli), who always has a pun at the ready, and seems to bring the natural light into many of the dining scenes. Even the gardener, a job you might expect would be the resident oddball in a horror story, is the heartfelt, slightly playful Jamie (Amelia Eve), who sees through much of Dani’s neuroses with her a surprising tenderness.

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