The Haunting of Bly Manor - Episode 1 “The Great Good Place”
It’s been two years since the surprise hit The Haunting of Hill House premiered on Netflix. Show creator Mike Flanagan had something close to a masterpiece on his hands with Hill House, a show packed with amazing camera work, exquisite set pieces, and an incredibly tender heart-felt story. It pulsed with earned scares and hidden apparitions and ghosts appearing just at the edge of frame.
Hill House was based on the eponymous horror novel by Shirley Jackson and in turn its successor the recently released The Haunting of Bly Manor is loosely inspired by a century old horror novella, The Turn of the Screw. Flanagan takes his cues from scary literature sincerely, as Bly Manor looks and feels very similar to Hill House. It is shot very well; every sequence has been given every ounce of care.
This first episode, "The Great Good Place," opens with a rather cryptic woman showing up at wedding nuptials on a beautiful estate. This woman is played by the ever-gorgeous Carla Gugino, sporting a serious English accent and an even more serious head of grey hair.
Gugino is the first of a few returning members from Hill House to pop up in this new series. As she begins telling the new happy couple a ghost story (how else do you pass time at a wedding reception?), we get introduced to our second returning veteran, Victoria Pedretti (Nell from Hill House) via flashback to 1987. She plays Dani, an American teacher in England looking for work. Her interview for a governess position at Bly Manor is handled by dull, drunk Henry Wingrave. He is played by actor Henry Thomas – a third Hill House star. Like Gugino, Thomas also sports a convincing English accent. Wingrave is indeed a bit of a prude, but eventually hires Dani for the governess position. Her charge is watching after two children, Wingrave’s niece and nephew. They live parentless in the aforementioned Bly Manor, a sweeping beautiful castle out in the English countryside. There are some manor staff that we meet after Dani arrives on scene. A cook/driver, a gardener as well as the housekeeper. The manor itself, much like the home in Hill House, is a character itself. It boasts long hallways, grand expansive rooms and an obligatory forbidden wing – the wing that the children’s dead parents use to live in.
The first episode does what most first episodes are meant for – introduce the characters and prop up the story. Both of the children, Miles and Flora, are sweet and polite. I’m telling you all, their accents make a world of difference to my American ears. It’s too early to detect how well these child actors will stack up against the brilliant performances from the children in Hill House. I can confidently say that they are off to a good start.
The setting of Bly Manor is sinuous and creepy but doesn’t feel manipulative. Shadows drape the frame, begging for your eyes to peer closer. Allegedly, more ghosts and ghouls are tucked away in various shots. Flanagan does take fun with this inadvertent game he has developed. This is honestly a smart way to make viewers really scour the frame for hidden spirits. And there are already some chilling shots in this first episode. Mostly they consist of Dani seeing an ominous reflection with glowing eyes accompanying her whenever she glances in the mirror, leading her to constantly cover all mirrors wherever she goes. There is some back story to Dani’s predecessor as well. Of course, in most first-episode writing, it’s all very vague. My absolute favorite scene in “The Great Good Place” is a scene near the end of the episode. Dani becomes locked in a closet – excuse me, a cupboard – and Pedretti’s performance as Dani quickly unravels at the thought of being trapped is nothing short of spectacular.
This isn’t a very scary episode overall though. But it does set the pace of what’s to come with the rest of the season. The child actors show a lot of potential. They walk the fine line between sweet and lovable to creepy and awful without going overboard either way. I especially love the little girl Flora and her ostensibly menacing “talismans” she leaves all over her room and in other parts of the house.
I will say that if Flanagan wanted to capture the lightning in the bottle that Hill House had, the Bly Manor succeeding episodes have their work cut out for them. Hill House’s pilot was far more investing and scarier than this episode is. But Bly Manor looks to be fun all the same.