ICYMI all of the rave in the television community has been about the story of a traumatic childhood event that comes back to haunt a grown adult and how they must ultimately deal with it. A story based on a book by a greatly respected and loved author. No, we are not talking about Daredevil, or a tv series of IT. Today, it’s all about The Haunting of Hill House, a 10 episode season based on the book of the same name by Shirley Jackson, and the 1963 horror film The Haunting (let’s not talk about 1999).
To keep it spoiler-free, the show is about the Crain family (2 brothers, 3 sisters) and how they deal with their traumatic past of living in a haunted house in their everyday lives as adults. The show flips between present day and the 90s, when the Crain family were kids living with their parents inside the Hill House, which is referred to in the show multiple times as, “The most famous haunted house in America.” That’s all that you need to know going in, because as soon as you start, you (probably) won’t/can’t stop until it’s done!
In the Crain family we have Steve Crain (Michiel Huisman), the oldest sibling who is a successful author in present day but hated by his other siblings for exposing them and still being a skeptic of ghosts. The second child and eldest daughter Shirley (Elizabeth Reaser), the “perfect child” who has a husband and 2 kids, owns a mortuary, and has a dark secret that has been haunting her for 6 years. Then there is Theo (Kate Siegel), the middle child with ‘psychic touch’ abilities and is a child psychologist who lives with her sister Shirley. Lastly we have the twins: Nell and Luke (Victoria Pedretti and Oliver Jackson-Cohen, respectively). They have a special “twin thing” ability where they could sense each others feelings (mental and physical), and they underwent the brunt of the suffering from their Hill House experience, as they were only 6 years old when living there. The twins also carry that suffering in their adult lives as Nell is a victim of manic depression, while Luke is a heroin addict. Carla Gugino and Timothy Hutton stars as the parents, Olivia and Hugh Crain, respectively.
Mike Flanagan did an exceptional job directing the series. Flanagan has a wide portfolio in the horror genre, with big names such as Absentia, Oculus, Ouija: Origin of Evil, Hush, Before I Wake, and Gerald’s Game. Like anyone tackling a book-to-screen adaptation and/or a movie “remake,” Flanagan was faced with some early criticism and skeptics. However, he put all of that to rest in Hill House’s red room (for those of you who didn’t watch the show, watch then come back to laugh at this reference). There’s just so much things done “exceptionally” well, with quotations because this should be the quality and attention to source material that directors and writers are delivering for their audiences.
Although it comes across as a 10 episode series, Flanagan makes this experience a 10-hour movie, as everything done and said has a domino effect and leads to the next episode, as opposed to a standard “one-line” plot (once again, watch the series finale, digest it, and come back to appreciate what I just wrote). To break it down, everything is entirely from the Crain siblings point of view. There is no “star of the show” or “one main character.” Episodes 1-5 are focussed independently on each of the siblings (5 siblings, 5 episodes) about there whereabouts during THE tragic night which Hill House was, “directly calling to them.” Episode 6 onwards, is about the siblings reuniting and facing their past for once and for all, as opposed to running away and hiding from it for all of these years.
As experiencing everything from the siblings’ POV the entire “movie”, the scares are insane. What really got me into this show was the reports of it having people pass out while watching it. I am a horror fan, but only horror done right. Blood, gore, clowns and puppets/dolls don’t cut it for me. And I have no problem throwing hands at leg-day skipping dudes in white masks. But this show is something else. Every scare, intentional and non-intentional was done right with dead accuracy on the beat. It builds tension when needed, the looks of the ghosts are traumatizing and disturbing, and the story behind each of them is vague, but detailed enough to draw your own conclusions and sense the kind of danger you’re in. The imagery of the ghosts are HORRIFYING and have such an impact when viewing because they’re looking straight at the camera aka you with paleness, deformation, and rotten teeth. And the jump scares are so impactful, it’s not even funny (unless you laugh when you’re scared, then it’s hilarious). I cannot stress enough that you are viewing what is going on in real time as the characters. So for jump scares, Flanagan wastes no time doing the tired and poorly-overdone suspenseful music and teases of someone else in the room. You are minding your business, trying to get some quality sleep. You open you eyes briefly to fix your pillow and turn to you other side so your arm doesn’t get numb in the morning when BOOM! Some bent-neck lady staring you down, looking like she confused and then screams in your face! And worst of all, if no-one sees it, it didn’t happen. Therefore it’s, “just a dream.”
One of the things that gets me riled up and unable to sleep is psychological scares, something that Flanagan has excelled in with a Ph.D when crafting this show. The fact that the Crains have been exposed to ghosts when they were children living in the house, but they were always dismissed as ‘dreams’ and ‘imaginary friends’ makes it tough for them, but has the viewer yelling at the parents through their screen as only we know its real. And to have the ghosts ‘escape’ the house the haunt the Crain children as adults adds an existential shock to the characters in a way. They were told to dismiss what they saw in the Hill House walls as a “bad dream,” and then as adults to see them again (outside the house), while trying to cope and forget their past makes it seem hopeless. Every ghost, vision, and illusion experienced in the house was less about scaring to, “leave this house at peace,” but to attract the residents. All of the physical scares that Flanagan introduces are part of a grand psychological haunt. Flanagan goes with the idea that Hill House can be seen as a body, and the residents within it are its meal. It feeds on the emotions of its residents, whether its fear or lust, and its goal is deprive the host of emotion. I could (and really want to) go on with a deeper analysis of this concept, but after that it gets into spoiler territory. Flanagan does just that, with every episode building on one more ounce fear and stress accumulated from the previous hour, until the satisfying conclusion where all of that just leaves, and the viewer asks themselves: Was there anything to be afraid of to begin with?
TL;DR – Watch at your own risk, this show INSANELY HORRIFYING
But I mean that in a good way, it is a good horror story, as opposed to the remakes and sequels caravan that Hollywood drives. One thing I noticed when doing some additional reading of the show was that in every scene, there is actually a hidden ghost just casually walking by or standing/staring directly at you. It’s not that noticeable at first, but once you see it you can’t unsee it! I great past-time if you dare to watch the HOHH again. This is the kind of detail and viewing service that Flanagan delivers. The Haunting of Hill House is a MOVIE that has a satisfying conclusion and can be treated as either a forbidden tape to never look at again. To those who can handle it, a tapestry that has different details and elements upon each viewing. The Haunting of Hill House is intriguing and full of plot points and character arches that are important story and not filler. Overall, the season ends on a satisfying note, closing the book and not having any cliffhangers or unresolved plothole that is a sell for another season. A much needed redemption and refreshment for the stale horror genre.