Monday, October 19, 2020

The Hauntings of Hill House and Bly Manor: A Celebration of Horror


The Hauntings of Hill House and Bly Manor

A Celebration of Horror

Spoiler alert, obviously.


When The Haunting of Hill House was released on Netflix there was not a single horror fan that didn’t go into binge-mode with equal parts trembling excitement and agonizing trepidation. Arguably one of Shirley Jackson’s most famous works, I can only imagine the fear, the anxiety the writers of the show carried with them as they navigated a world brimming with opportunity for jump scares and creeping terror. How much should they hold back? Should they hold back at all?

The end product was—and I say this without irony—a masterpiece. Diehard horror fans and folks new (or apprehensive) to the genre flocked to social media to sing its praises. This was what horror was.

So when the same writers promised another series—The Haunting of Bly Manor—you could almost hear the drip, drop of drool hitting the floor. I was swept up in the excitement. I loved Hill House despite my aversion to screen-horror, despite my propensity to run and jump into bed, certain there was something evil beneath my bed, and couldn’t wait to enter Bly Manor.


The first thing you should know if you haven’t seen Bly Manor—it isn’t Hill House.

And if you have seen it? Perhaps you need reminding—it isn’t Hill House.

The writers had a choice: they could bank on a winning formula, or they could try something new. They knew what worked with Hill House and I have no doubt they could have replicated it if they’d wanted. Indeed, fans expected it to be Hill House Season 2. Clamored for it, even.

Instead, they took a risk. And in doing so, created with the two series’ a kind of love story to the horror genre, in all its complex, twisted glory.

This is what horror is, we said of Hill House.

Bly Manor politely disagreed.

Sure, we start with the scares—a terrifying apparition in reflective surfaces, children who look a little too dead behind the eyes, faceless beings and a general feeling of unease that permeates through every room of the gothic manor—but before we could start to predict the scares, before we started to peel back the wallpaper, seeking the walls of Hill House, the very center of Bly Manor cracked open.

Bly Manor is a slow burn, the pace almost mimicking the slow, purposeful walk of the lady in the lake. But it’s not without payoff. Mysteries reveal themselves, unraveling in real time. Viewers see themselves in Dani—the au pair—and we feel the depth her fear, her worry, her confusion (and this is in no small thanks to Victoria Pedretti’s acting).

But Bly Manor isn’t just about fear.

It’s about grief. Sacrifice. Love.

And this is the fundamental difference between Bly Manor and Hill HouseBly Manor, rather than skimming the surface of complex emotions in order to bolster terror, plumbs the depths of feeling, sacrificing screams for sobs. And as the layers are peeled back and complex character motivations revealed, we start to see through the terror. We stare the lady in the lake in the face (or, lack of face) and though we’re shaking, though we can see the gray, lifeless lake waiting behind her, we feel empathy. We feel pain.

Bly Manor  and Hill House together represent the complexity of horror. The potential. Horror isn’t all gore and death and Vincent Price—it’s a representation of deep, intense feeling. We cry. We scream. We feel.

In one of the final scenes, one character tells the narrator she misrepresented the story of Bly Manor: You said it’s a ghost story. I think it’s a love story.

I think, sometimes, they’re the same thing.


Kimberly G. Giarratano said...

I loved Bly Manor and I've been thinking about the show for a week now. Amazing story telling.

Great post!

Karissa Laurel said...

I didn't read the post because I'm in the middle of Bly Manor and don't want spoilers but I'm loving it so far!

theartofpuro said...

I loved Hill House :)

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