At the beginning of the year, in the Before Times when movies were still coming out in theaters, I reviewed The Turning, a decent adaptation of one of my favorite books, The Turn of the Screw by Henry James. The new followup to last fall’s The Haunting of Hill House on Netflix also draws inspiration from that novel, but delivers a more emotional if less scary, version.
The Haunting of Bly Manor takes place at a remote English estate, where an au pair, Dani (Victoria Pedretti), arrives to look after young Miles (Benjamin Evan Ainsworth) and Flora (Amelie Bea Smith). Haunted by her own past, Dani gets drawn into the close knit group at the house, including housekeeper Mrs. Grose (T’Nia Miller), cook Owen (Rahul Kohli), and gardener Jamie (Amelia Eve). Bly Manor, however, is haunted by a powerful force that draws them all into its gravity. This season of The Haunting, like the first season, is more inspired by the source material than truly based on it. The story again digs into themes around grief, guilt, and family, but the threads of the story do not come together as cogently as they did in The Haunting of Hill House. The story is also never as scary as the first season was and lacks much of the eerie imagery, especially in the background. The season’s fifth and eighth episodes, “The Altar of the Dead” and “The Romance of Certain Old Clothes” are the strongest installments, playing with the structure of the narrative and drawing on another story by Henry James.
The ensemble cast does an outstanding job playing a group of characters with emotional baggage, bound together by friendship and the experiences at the haunted mansion. Returning cast members Victoria Pedretti and Oliver Jackson-Cohen anchor different aspects of the narrative, with Pedretti playing a pretty similar character to Nell from Hill House. Jackson-Cohen plays Peter Quint, a much smoother, darker outing than last season that he pulls off well. It’s really the new cast members, particularly T’Nia Miller and Rahul Kohli who shine and give the story surprising warmth.
If The Haunting of Hill House was the story of a family tragedy, The Haunting of Bly Manor is love story. It is not as strong an outing as its predecessor. It makes many interesting choices that kept me watching, but the elements do not all add up to a fantastic miniseries. The Haunting of Bly Manor was created by Mike Flanagan. It runs for nine episodes on Netflix and is rated TV-MA.
My husband and I tried to watch another new Netflix feature, Hubie Halloween starring Adam Sandler and featuring a panoply of his famous friends. I wanted to turn this movie off after six minutes. My husband made it to nine, mostly because he was on his phone. Perhaps, if you endure long enough, this film gets good, but I doubt it. In our brief sampling, I kept exclaiming, “How did he get this person to be in this movie!?” Ben Stiller appears, doing a mashup of his characters from Heavyweights and Dodgeball. All the usual Adam Sandler Players make appearances. Then there’s Ray Liotta. How? Meanwhile, Adam Sandler seems to have repurposed his performance from The Waterboy. If you are bored or want something truly terrible and stupid to watch (as sometimes we do), this film may be an option. After watching Sandler’s last Netflix movie, Murder Mystery, I felt pretty confident that I could just turn this one off.
If you’re in the mood for a scary supernatural movie this Halloween and have the focus to read subtitles, check out The Binding, an Italian horror movie about a little girl who falls victim to “the evil eye.” This horror flick follows the standard playbook of a movie about possession. Even so, the acting by the female leads is really solid and the plot is thrilling enough to keep you guessing, but not so scary that you will want to keep the lights on at bedtime.
Finally, for something on Netflix that is spooky and funny, try Vampires vs. The Bronx. This vampire film set in the Bronx plays with the complicated role of race in horror using a sharp and nostalgic take on the vampire genre. It reminds me of the original Buffy The Vampire Slayer movie, but is as smart as that movie is stupid. The story follows a group of teens who are determined to protect their neighborhood from roving vampires. It is the perfect mix of creepy and funny.
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