Mike Flanagan's brilliant 2018 series "The Haunting of Hill House" set the bar very, very high for both scares and storytelling. It's not surprising that the 2020 follow up THE HAUNTING OF BLY MANOR fails to live up to the original.
Most of his original cast is back, playing entirely new characters for this UK based horror story that's loosely based on Henry James "The Turn of the Screw".
Henry Thomas (ET) is Henry Wingrave, a wealthy London industrialist who becomes responsible for his young nephew Miles and niece Flora after their parents are tragically killed in an accident.
He keeps his distance from the kids home, the palatial Bly Manor located deep in the wooded, foggy, spooky countryside. After the latest au pair he sends to care for them tragically and mysteriously dies, he sends a young American girl to take her place. Dani (Victoria Pedretti) is running from secrets of her own. She's drawn to the children almost immediately. But something is amiss with Miles (the terrific young Benjamin Evan Ainsworth) and his sister Flora (Amile Bea Smith, equally good.) The children seem to see people that aren't there.
There are only three other people in the massive estate. Chef Owen (Rahul Kohli) is charming, funny and seems hopelessly in love with housekeeper Mrs. Grose (the superb T'Nia Miller). The groundskeeper Jamie (a stunning Amelia Eve) takes no prisoners either, but seems to warm to Dani as the house begins to disturb her.
At over 8 hours long, there's room for the story to sprawl, but unfortunately things slow to a crawl as the story stretches for at least two too many episodes.
The cast is great, including Oliver Jackson Cohen as the seductive Peter and Carla Gugino as our narrator, who knows how to tell a ghost story.
There are some great jolt scares, but much less suspense than the original series, which kept you ready to scream for hour-long episodes without any chance to breathe.
This is a more Victorian tale, layered in history, deception and time jumps that become far too repetitive and routine to be intriguing.
Henry Thomas is a rock throughout, offering a tortured modern center to the classic tale. The music by The Newton Brothers (Doctor Sleep) is powerful, classic and hits you dead in the face at all the right moments.
There are very good moments sprinkled from beginning to end. There are ghosts hidden in almost scene from Dani's point of view. There are many layers of emotion woven across the years, but the fabric never pulls into something as formidable as the first season, which was brilliant.
We'll give the sophomore season of this anthology series a solid B and hope for a tighter story if and when we get another installment.
It's still a damn good ghost story, haunted by the need for a bit more editing. But those faceless specters deliver the chills.