Netflix’s The Haunting of Hill House. Maybe you’ve heard of it. The horror television series has been making waves and I’ve finally finished the series. The show is inspired by the 1959 Shirley Jackson novel of the same name but makes some dramatic departures from that source material. Thus, we have a fairly original tale of a dysfunctional family set against the backdrop of an incredibly haunted house. So how is it?
Well, Hill House is nothing short of fantastic. Part of why it is so good is due to the focus of the show being on the characters and their respective stories more so that cheap scares. There are scares though, plenty of them, and the show’s emphasis on terror knows how to create genuine tension. But none of that would really matter if we don’t care about the Crain family.
The story unfolds over two timelines. The primary story is set in the present and follows a broken Crain family dealing with new and old traumas. Each episode is told from the point of view of either one of the five children or the parents. From there, most episodes are cross-cut with a look into the past, specifically when the Crain’s lived at Hill House. Hugh Crain and his wife, Olivia bought the old mansion and strived to flip the derelict old house and sell it at a profit. But the children, especially the younger ones, were subject to unusual and terrifying horrors during their stay at the house, and even Olivia had her moments of suffering. But is the house haunted, or are these early signs of mental illness? The show does a great job at making it hard to distinct and allowing for human horror to have its time, thus making you question the validity of the supernatural. Despite being a show about ghosts and a haunted house, this show does an excellent job at showing that it’s people that can carry the real horrors with them. And the child actors are completely amazing and help sell the fear, the ambiguity and the innocence of being a child.
Thanks to the show being presented non-linearly, some shots and scenes end up taking new meanings many episodes later. With each episode focusing from one point of view, we the audience-and that protagonist, don’t always have the whole picture and it’s easy to jump to conclusions or create their own justifications. We see only one angle in one episode and it may seem scary because we fear the unknown, but once you see the other side of the situation, later on, things begin to take on a new light.
There is no doubt that real or otherwise that the house is well and truly creepy though. A gothic Victorian mansion in Massachusetts, it’s grand hallways seem to be the home of the ghosts of the previous tenants, the Hills. Terrors haunt the hallways, from the floating ghost to the unsettling and now famous Bent-Neck Lady. Often, director Mike Flanagan uses terror as oppose to horror in his scarier scenes, which means that the audience has that feeling of dread before the scare happens. We know something is amiss, that something else is in the room, but we don’t know to what end. These scenes are wonderfully tense and chilling and they make the few scenes that jump out at you even scarier as you’ve been conditioned to feel the fear before the jump. The music also does a great job at bringing this atmosphere alive, being largely calm but with an eerie dread lurking behind the notes.
In the present, the five children are scattered and living their own lives. Some still live under the pain of Hill House, like twins Nell and Luke, while Steven Crain has become a famous author writing about his family’s trauma, pain and loss, largely at the disapproval of his family, especially his mortician sister Shirley. Living with Shirley is her emotionally unstable sister, Theodora, who discovers an interesting side of herself while living at Hill House as a child. The kids, now adults, have all felt the effects of Hill House in some way shape or form and it has affected them each differently.
But the main fun in the story is trying to unravel the mystery as to what happened on the kids’ final night at Hill House before their father tore them away from the house and their mother, who the Bent Neck Lady is and why is the house so haunted? And is it even? Part of the fun is trying to separate fact from fiction. We all know people can be unreliable narrators but we seem to be the harshest on children when it comes to this matter. So when a child in the show says something that seems ludicrous, we instantly dismiss it as either kids being kids or that the parents are in denial of the supernatural. But there can never be a third option.
While each episode is rock solid, a special acknowledgement has to be given to episode six. If you don’t want to know anything at all, skip ahead, but episode six stands as a technical marvel. It uses extremely long takes, sometimes up to fifteen minutes long to tell a story. When the action cuts to the past, a clever editing trick makes it seem like the two timelines are happening at the same time. People move seamlessly in and out of frame and of their respective timeline and certain items and characters are moved or added when the camera pans away. The camera moves through the house with ease and the crew help set up upcoming shots behind the camera. The actors bring their A game, making these long and juicy scenes come alive while also building the suspense and character drama. This is, without doubt, the best episode of TV this year. You can dive into the Behind the Scenes in the clip below!
In fact, Hill House will rank as one of the best shows on TV this year. It explores the human condition in a real and relatable way while also delivering plenty of scares that will stay with you long after the moment has passed. By the time the ending has passed and the questions have been answered, you’ll want to rewatch this show with a new point of view in mind. The characters are layered, rich and engaging and they pull you into the mystery of the Crain family and of Hill House itself. For fans of gothic and supernatural horror, you should definitely check this out and even if you’re not a fan of horror, if you adamantly avoid watching it, I’d still suggest trying it out as you may be surprised as to how it treats horror and how well it treats its characters. Oh – and be sure to keep an eye out for the many hidden ghosts hiding in the shots throughout the season. If you’re still looking for something else to read, why not take a look at our recent analysis at the Alien Vs Predator Franchise or our other content at Screenhub Entertainment.