The following is a review of the Netflix limited series The Haunting of Hill House — Directed by Mike Flanagan.
With films like Oculus, Ouija: Origin of Evil, Hush, and Gerald’s Game, filmmaker Mike Flanagan has started to make quite a name for himself. He has become a reliable horror filmmaker, and after Gerald’s Game, in particular, it certainly felt like he had gotten into the right meeting rooms. Suddenly, he had signed on to adapt Stephen King’s Doctor Sleep, and right now he is ready with these ten episodes of The Haunting of Hill House — a great Netflix’s horror series that is as sad as it is terrifying.
Flanagan’s The Haunting of Hill House is currently a limited series (which might be continued, or even become an anthology series, if audience flock to the service to check the show out) that is loosely based on Shirley Jackson’s 1959 gothic horror novel of the same name. The series follows the five Crain siblings who once lived in Hill House with their parents, Olivia (played by Carla Gugino) and Hugh (played by both Timothy Hutton and Henry Thomas).
Each of the first five episodes focuses on one of the siblings, and we see them both as children and as adults to see how their childhood trauma has affected them as grown-ups. First, we have Steven Crain (played by both Michiel Huisman and Paxton Singleton), the eldest Crain son, who, as an adult, has made money off of the family history by becoming a skeptical author of non-fiction books about haunted homes. He, initially, reminded me a lot of John Cusack’s character from Mikael Häfström’s adaptation of Stephen King’s short story 1408.
Shirley Crain (played by both Elizabeth Reaser and Lulu Wilson), not to be confused with the creator of the original story, is the eldest Crain daughter. She and her husband work together at a mortuary, and she has Theodora Crain (played by both Kate Siegel and Mckenna Grace), her sister and the middle child of the family, as a neighbor. Theodora is a child psychologist, and, as a child, she learned that she has certain unique abilities.
Finally, there are the two youngest in the family — the twins — Luke Crain (played by both Oliver Jackson-Cohen and Julian Hilliard), who struggles with addiction, and Eleanor “Nell” Crain (played by both Victoria Pedretti and Violet McGraw), who, at the beginning of the series, admits to still seeing the ghost that has haunted her all of her life.
One of the shows that The Haunting of Hill House reminded me of was LOST. The format of the first couple of episodes reminded me of the character studies that many episodes of LOST were. However, every character-focused Hill House episode except for maybe one of them, which was about a character who I never cared for, is of the highest quality.
These episodes are great examples of how the format of the Hill House-series relies upon a mixture of flashbacks and present-day scenes. There really is a seamless blend of then and now, which is made the clearest in the brilliant sixth episode of the series — Two Storms — which I think of as a true masterpiece of genre television. It might be the best episode of a horror series that I have ever seen.
Flanagan directed all ten episodes of the series, and Two Storms is really his best chance to showcase his talents. The entire episode consists of multiple long shots — and when I say long shots, I really mean long shots. Flanagan made the episode, which is, as the title hints at, about two storms, into an uncomfortable, authentic, and play-like horror hour.
Characters appear to walk into their own pasts in single shots. Ghosts appear to spook characters, but also sometimes just the viewer. What must be stressed is that The Haunting of Hill House is a family drama about both childhood trauma, sibling relationships, and, of course, ghosts. And Two Storms is the one episode that the series will be remembered for.
The entire cast is great (both the young and adult versions of the Crains), and I was particularly captivated by Carla Gugino — but, really, the production as a whole is the highlight of the show. The house is a character of its own. Flanagan and his team nail the atmosphere of the house, and some of the ghosts that inhabit it are pure nightmare-fuel. What is even more impressive is how the show messes with your mind. Ghosts appear on screen, but the show doesn’t always point it out — and, as a result, you feel like you are seeing things (and you probably did). Now, that is scary. Also, the series’ smooth camera movements and the long takes were spellbinding.
My one and only problem with the show is that while I do think the majority of the episodes are fantastic, the show doesn’t stick the landing towards the end. The final episode was a major disappointment, to me. The format of that episode became slightly repetitive, dialogue-heavy-scenes dragged, and the episode was maybe a little bit too sentimental and generally rather anti-climactic. It is a shame that the series doesn’t quite end on as high of a note as the majority of the season promised, but I still think that eight or nine of the ten hours are some of the best hours of horror that I’ve seen this year, which is why I’ll gladly recommend it highly.
As we get closer and closer to Halloween, Netflix has given the perfect and most appropriate gift for the spooky month of October. I binge-watched the series the weekend it came out, and I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it ever since. The Haunting of Hill House‘s beautiful blend of scares, sadness, and catharsis is the best horror entertainment that I’ve seen this year, even though the ending wasn’t quite as perfect for me as I had hoped it would be.
– Jeffrey Rex Bertelsen.