With spooky season at its peak, it’s only appropriate to talk about Netflix’s “The Haunting of Bly Manor.”
The series comes from Mike Flanagan, a director noted as a modern genius in horror. After his 2013 hit “Oculus,” Netflix invited him to produce content under their wing.
Their collaboration officially began when they bought the rights to Flanagan’s “Hush,” proclaimed one of the best horror movies of 2016.
He has since directed works like “Gerald’s Game” (2017), an adaptation of a Stephen King novel deemed unfilmable by many in Hollywood, and “Before I Wake” (2018), a Flanagan project Netflix saved from obscurity.
Flanagan’s latest project is “The Haunting” anthology series, which, based on its first two works, adapts classic horror books of the 20th century. “The Haunting of Hill House” was the first installment and follows the Crain family as they grapple with their horrific childhood memories from Hill House.
The show was a hit in 2018 and a sequel was quickly greenlit. Two years later, “The Haunting of Bly Manor” once again was a success, confirming the genius of Flanagan’s horror-making formula.
His original strategies in filmmaking have created a more modern and progressive way to view scary movies. Here are a few I’d like to highlight:
Real, Capable People
There seems to be an appropriate movement emerging in scary movies. Rather than flimsy, careless and empty-minded characters, horror writers today ensure they are strong, capable and resilient combatants. You see this in Jordan Peele’s latest works, Stranger Things and also with Flanagan.
“The Haunting of Hill House” highlights the success of most of the Crain siblings despite their haunted upbringing. They have respectable jobs and were able to largely overcome their traumatic childhood.
Then, when they are called back to their haunted childhood home, they do so with strength and intelligence.
While at first Dani of “The Haunting of Bly Manor” seems to be a ditsy, unassuming new nanny, she proves to be smart, brave and more than capable.
Aside from the sense of fear, Flanagan also deploys other complex feelings ensure an emotional roller coaster. He makes the scare tactics intricate, causing his characters to relate to these fears into their own lives.
An example of this is in “The Haunting of Bly Manor,” occurs when Dani, played by Victoria Pedretti, is haunted by a ghost that appears every time she looks in the mirror. The image fills her with fear, but also a sense of guilt and pain, as the figure is from a dark part of her past.
Another example can be found in “The Haunting of Hill House,” where Luke Crain, played by Oliver Jackson-Cohen, turns to drug abuse in an attempt ward off the ghosts that traumatized him in youth.
By relating the haunting to real-life issues, Flanagan forces the audience to empathize with these haunted, distraught characters. Their ghosts may be terrifying, but so are their personal lives.
Fear of the Unknown
Flanagan plays on the real-world fear of the unknown. Rather than focusing the majority of his scares on monsters or ghosts, he teeters over the line between what is real and what is in our heads. His scares make the characters and thus the viewers, question their reality — are they seeing ghosts, or hallucinations?
This is especially highlighted in “The Haunting of Hill House.” As adults, the Crain siblings struggle with different problems that were the result of living in the haunted house. But they’re not sure if they were from their own imaginations or the house itself and even as they unwind their traumatic pasts, they question each other’s experiences.
Essentially, Flanagan asks the same question in both stories — is it real, or all in their heads?
The horror genre has seen some progressive changes in the past decade and Flanagan has earned his role in this movement. “The Haunting” series is sure to scare you but in a deeper, more chilling and realistic manner.
While season three has not been confirmed yet, the success of the first two is likely to earn a green light from Netflix.
In the meantime, be sure to add both shows to your Halloween watchlists, as well as other spooky works by Flanagan.