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The Haunting of Hill House

Crafting a horror series is never an easy task. AMERICAN HORROR STORY has enjoyed its fair share of successes (the current season of APOCALYPSE has been immensely entertaining) and misses (FREAKS), but with the exception of CHANNEL ZERO, THE WALKING DEAD, and FEAR OF THE WALKING DEAD, that’s pretty much where the viewing choices ended. That is, of course, until Netflix released its latest smash-hit, THE HAUNTING OF HILL HOUSE.

I’ve always been a huge fan of the horror genre, whether it be in television or film, but I will readily admit that it is far more difficult to craft an entertaining multi-episode venture on the small screen than it is to do within the running time of a two hour film. This, perhaps, is what makes THE HAUNTING OF HILL HOUSE so impressive. Spanning over 10 episodes, it is loosely based on the novel by Shirley Jackson and follows the torturous turmoil of the Crain family. Continuously flashing back to the past and then leaping forward to the present, it shows how one summer defined the course of the rest of their lives.

When Hugh (Henry Thomas) and Olivia (Carla Gugino) Crain move with their five children, Shirley (Lulu Wilson), Theo (Mckenna Grace), Steven (Paxton Singleton), Luke (Julian Hilliard), and Nell (Violet McGraw) into an old mansion known as Hill House in 1992, their hope was to spend eight weeks fixing up the place before flipping it. The vast home was beautiful and full of potential, but from the very beginnings, bizarre incidents began occurring. From scratching sounds behind the wall, to ghosts that the children swore they saw, each evening seemed to deliver an unnerving dose of terror that convinced the children that there were far more secrets within the walls of the home than their parents were willing to admit. 

In the present, each member of the family is dealing with their own demons and disasters. Hugh (Timothy Hutton) is estranged from his children, which seems to have stemmed from his handling of Olivia’s death. Steven (Michiel Huisman) published a book about his upbringing in the haunted Hill House, although his marriage is crumbling. Theo (Kate Siegel) can’t seem to get close to anyone, and lives on the same property as Shirley (Elizabeth Reaser) who now runs a funeral home. Meanwhile, Luke (Oliver Jackson-Cohen) is battling a severe drug addiction, and Nell (Victoria Pedretti) is still afflicted with visions of the same entities that haunted her as a child. There is an endless supply of anger and resentment that rears its head every time any of them get together, and when an unspeakable tragedy strikes, the fractured relationships grow even more perilous.

THE HAUNTING OF HILL HOUSE was directed by Mike Flanagan, who was at the helm of the excellent Netflix film GERALD’S GAME. At the start of the series, I genuinely doubted that the story would be able to stretch over 10 episodes, but my interest never waned from beginning to end. The structure, which includes navigation of past and present, also gave each character their own centric episode. This kept the story lively and engaging while allowing the viewer the opportunity to piece together the elaborate puzzle. Though many audience members have been terrified beyond belief by the imagery that is projected on the screen, I never found myself paralyzed with fright. There are a number of uncomfortable, disturbing images, but I’ll take the subtlety of (the original) PARANOMAL ACTIVITY or BLAIR WITCH over the spirits that haunt the hallways of Hill House any day. Having said that, those who enjoy jump scares and ghosts will find plenty to squeal about, and even those who don’t will find the story engaging enough to stay invested. The excellent production design feels entirety cinematic, and the sprawling, mysterious mansion is as much of a character as any living (or dead) entity that appears on screen.

While many potential viewers will come for the scares, they will stay for the dramatic dynamic of the Crain family. The entire cast is excellent, and while the modern Crain’s are far from likable, their 1992 iterations are innocent and lovable. As the tale is pieced together, you begin to understand why all of the kids grew up to be pessimistic and spiteful, and as a result, you being to feel a bit more sympathy for their plights. In fact, I found myself far less interested in the spirits lurking around the corner, and far more intrigued with the stories of those affected by their presence. By finding this traditionally difficult balance that also the production to appeal to such a broad audience, Flanagan and company have found a way to deliver the perfect series for the Halloween season.

The Haunting of Hill House: 



RUN TIME: 50min episodes

GENRE: Drama, Fantasy, Horror,

Mystery, Thriller

STARRING:  Michiel Huisman,

Carla Gugino, Henry Thomas

DIRECTOR: Mike Flanagan

Writers: Mike Flanagan,

Shirley Jackson, et al.

Brian Miller