“No live organism can continue to exist sanely under conditions of absolute reality. Even larks and katydids are supposed by some to dream. Hill House, not sane… stood by itself against its hills holding darkness within. It had stood so for hundred of years before my family moved in and might stand for a hundred more. Within, walls stood upright, bricks met neatly, floors were firm. Silence lay steadily against the wood and stone of Hill House. And whatever walked there, walked alone.”
The opening monologue lifted directly from Shirley Jackson’s novel is enough to send chills down anyone’s spine. The Haunting of Hill House is by no means a fun show; it’s about a family struggling to outrun its demons, familiar from their summer spent in the country’s most famous haunted house. In the end, they must reunite at the very source of the plight and face the ghosts of their past.
A warning that mild spoilers lie ahead. Hugh Crain and wife Olivia are serial house flippers who move into Hill House in hopes of making a fortune. Instead, he and his five children end up reeling from the death of their mother on a fateful night in the titular nightmare house. The eldest, Steven (Michael Huisman) is a horror novelist who made it big by writing of the family’s experiences in the house. Like her brother, Shirley (Elizabeth Reaser), now a mortician, has built her career around the macabre. The youngest siblings, Luke and Nell, are most affected by the house. Luke grows to find comfort in the needle. Nell’s suicide becomes the catalyst for the show’s present-day storyline. And the middle child, Theodora, has her own way of dealing with the trauma; she becomes the emphatic bridge between her mentally broken younger siblings and her two older skeptical ones. All this is compounded by a lack of father figure. Hugh, unable to explain his wife’s death and forever scarred, distances himself from his children’s lives.
The series’ slow pace allows it to delve into the Crain family in detail. It’s more like an eerie character study with a ghostly presence hiding behind every shot. There are tons of horror Easter eggs and tucked-away ghosts. Director Mike Flanagan offers horror fans everywhere a bit of everything. Viewers should expect the usual jump scares, spooky spirits, and gaping mouths that have become synonymous with the paranormal genre. The main specter, of course, is the Bent Neck Lady.
Don’t let the family drama distract you from the supernatural. Carla Gugino’s character slowly dips into insanity, coupled with a house that doesn’t let you leave with the help of its many ghosts. The real haunting of Hill House may very well be the tragic lives of those inside, but when the ghosts finally show, it’s scary. Viewers may be so enthralled with the narrative that they least expect the scare.
However, the adaptation has received criticism aplenty for its lack of reference to Jackson’s book. In over ten hours of screen time, only three times was the series relevant to the supposed source material. Flanagan changes everything, from the characters and their relations, to the house itself. Only remaining faithful to character names. Nevertheless, it is intelligent, emotional, and terrifying when it needs to be.
The Haunting of Hill House is more than a horror story. It sets a precedent for a new era of TV horror, leaving us with the thought that every family has a horror story of its own, no matter which house they live in.