The feels. The hype. The bent-neck lady.
The Haunting of Hill House has worked its gnarled, pale fingers into the heart of pop culture where all horror pieces certainly do not get to go. I know, sometimes the crossover success can be hard for us genre fans to deal with. Why is the This is Us crowd obsessed with a show that’s supposed to be OURS? But scary offerings getting mainstream success is good for us. It’s even better when those offerings are quality. Luckily, Hill House certainly is.
Most of you reading this probably already knew (and had hopefully have even read) that the Netflix original show was adapted from the literary classic of the same name written by Shirley Jackson. The adaptation part is pretty loose, but still. A big chunk of you also probably knew that horror fixture Mike Flanagan directed, produced and wrote the series. Both of those facts combined means the expectation for this thing to be phenomenal were high. I don’t generally approve of book adaptations making such huge changes as this one did, but I am shocked to say I think it was the right choice.
I am a big fan of what I think of as “family-dynamic” horror. I can’t be the only one considering the success of Hereditary, A Quiet Place and a slew of recent novels evoking the same. Siblings and parents can have really challenging relationships with one another. There’s a lot of envy, resentment, dishonesty and other nefarious things happening behind closed doors in most people’s lives. Of course there’s plenty of love and loyalty, too. Putting family members together in terrifying situations is the perfect way to see if they sink or swim as a team!
The story plays out following the five Craine children living their dysfunctional adult lives, as well as flashbacks to a fateful summer they lived at Hill House as kids with their parents. The elder Craines are flipping the decaying old mansion to sell. Sadly, no one told them the place was already densely populated with ghosts. The spirits terrorize most of the crew giving us some of the best utterly unnerving scenes and even jump scares that I’ve seen in a long time. Even though each Craine in turn managed to make me angry with their poor choices and scathing words to each other, they never lost their likeability. I was always rooting for these people and begging them to reconcile, especially the grown kids. Instead of coming off like aging whiners, they made me care for them and have empathy for their all too human flaws in a supernatural setting. Given the events of Hill House, how would the average person cope? It would probably look something like this. I was incredibly pleased by the whole ensemble cast of adult and child actors. The kids, though adorable, are never cloying or precocious. You can see their young personalities emerging into their grown-up counterparts. The parental team (both past and present) were beyond perfection. I guess at this point I’m pretty much convinced Carla Gugino can do no wrong. I wasn’t prepared to love her this much in another horror role so soon after 2017’s Gerald’s Game.
The production itself is gorgeous. The home is exactly how I wanted it to look. Long, dark hallways full of rooms, antique pieces, a dramatic staircase, even an ostentatiously large chandelier! Last but certainly not least… the ghosts. I am a huge fan of ghosts. I scrutinize them in everything I watch. From their voices to their wardrobe and makeup, these specters need to keep haunting me long after I turn off the TV. Hill House’s ghosts are certainly no exception. Cheesy effects would have cheapened the whole thing and made this a laughable “horror” experience. I can honestly say I don’t think Flanagan pulled any of his punches on this one.
Maybe some non-horror viewers tuned in to be a part of the workplace chatter the next day, or see why their friends are all raving about this thing was suddenly clogging up their social media feeds. But yes, the show is actually pretty damn unsettling. Some of those same curious onlookers were not able to handle it and bowed out before completing the ten episode run. Normal people being too scared to finish watching something is the best endorsement a horror production can have. It’s not always easy to embrace the hype and fanfare, but in cases like The Haunting of Hill House it’s actually worth it.