Flashing between past and present, a fractured family confronts haunting memories of their old home and the terrifying events that drove them from it.Flashing between past and present, a fractured family confronts haunting memories of their old home and the terrifying events that drove them from it.Flashing between past and present, a fractured family confronts haunting memories of their old home and the terrifying events that drove them from it.
This is a series where the fears and connections among the characters are truly, wholeheartedly the focus; having finished it, I still can't be sure if the paranormal images we see are wholly real, or the result of in-universe coping mechanisms (some defy time and space in such a way that I doubt they're simple dreams). But with a show like this, the threat to our heroes (if that's even a good term for these damaged lifeforms) is real no matter what. At any second, the final straw could land.
The show may not be for the faint of heart, nor the faint of attention. You won't be getting your jump scares and shrieking It clowns to hold your hand every few minutes in this one. This is decidedly more thoughtful and, once we've delved deep into the characters and their states of mind, more genuinely horrifying than what modern horror fans might think of as horror.
Our main protagonists are the Crain family, last known owners of the ominous Hill House manor: father Hugh (Henry Thomas as an adult, Timothy Hutton as an elder), mother Olivia (an angelic Carla Gugino), and the five kiddies; author and ghost-debunker Steven (Michiel Huisman and Paxton Singleton), mortician Shirley (Elizabeth Reaser; Lulu Wilson), drug-addict Luke (Oliver Jackson-Cohen; Julian Hilliard), hedonist and psychic Theodora (Kate Siegel; McKenna Grace), and Nellie (Victoria Pedretti; Violet McGraw), possibly the most haunted of them all. These actors all do stupendously well, child actors included, during even the most lengthy and meticulously coordinated takes.
In terms of convincing older-self casting, this show might rival Netflix's Dark (which cast dozens of crucial characters with a maximum of three performers each) - this one is especially careful to make sure the younger and older selves share similar body language and demeanor. And this is to say nothing of how the characters are written.
Every episode, we alternate between the characters as children and them as grownups, with some additional flashbacks being had in the "future" story, recalling happier times for the characters' adult selves. Early on, the future plotline of each episode is typically leading up to a particular death within the Crain family, while the past plotline is leading up to the final night spent in Hill House - each episode follows a different character up to the two moments; both storylines are then reset for the succeeding episode with a new focal character. This is just the beginning of how the show plays with time.
This choice may seem artsy at first glance, but it's anything but. It allows for some masterful tension-building and cleverly delivered revelations, with a few bits of recontextualization as we get to know more about these people. The aforementioned long takes also do wonders for the suspense and ambiance, heightened by the skillful use of sound, lighting, depth of field, and color.
Alas, even with a horror show this well-made (its creator Mike Flanagan has an interesting track record with Gerald's Game, Ouija: Origin of Evil, and Doctor Sleep), some clichés and genre-inherent bits of cheese must persist. There are admittedly a few jump scares in this series, but they make sense in-universe; these people have every reason to get startled by their own shadows. One might also complaints about one of the child performances, though I would offer that it makes sense for the character to emote a bit strangely.
In any event, I will certainly be investigating the Bly Manor follow-up as Halloween draws nearer. I might review that one separately (it's not strictly the same show, but a sequel), so for now, take this recommendation from my insignificant ass for what it's worth.
- Oct 18, 2020