Over the years, there have been two types of horror stories within the genre: ones with a purpose and ones chasing fear. It’s quite rare to find films within the genre that are a happy medium between the two and I can say that Netflix’s The Haunting of Hill House is exactly that. It’s hard to think back to all of the horror films released over the years and find the ones that have more to say than just “BOO;” but, there was a time where horror had a purpose back when films like The Shining and Halloween were released. Both films focused on the family elements of horror and how sometimes the reality of life can be plagued by a supernatural horror that can introduce a new meaning to the word ‘fear.’ This is the true starting point of Netflix’s The Haunting of Hill House.
The series opens with a horrifying series events that play out across several rooms inside Hill House involving the Crain Family that truly sets the tone for what appears to be a very gothic and psychological approach to a typical ‘haunted house’ story. But, what follows becomes a story about a family dealing with grief, addiction, trauma, fear and the pains of being human. While the series is loosely based on Shirley Jacksons book of the same name, it branches out by adding more to the story that truly captures the gothic vibes and real-life horror that the book encapsulates. Director Mike Flanagan (Oculus, Hush) takes a lot of creative liberties with the source material by adding his own twist to the story. Flanagan has proven time and time again that he is one of the most competent and talented horror writers/directors of this generation. His strong grasp of storytelling and conjuring up scares are on full display in all of his films, but, The Haunting of Hill House really allows him to shine with long form storytelling.
Now, at this point typically reviewers will begin going into a breakdown of the plot, but, I feel as though because the Netflix audience is used to taking chances on most shows and films, this is the perfect show to take a chance on. I recommend going into this series knowing as little as possible to avoid having expectations created for you. This is not the typical jump-scare filled horror show that modern audiences are used to. It’s not over-the-top gory or sinister, it’s a real-world story about the lasting effects a ‘haunted house’ can have on a family who would seem crazy if they told their story as they grow older. Flanagan’s back and forth storytelling (from past to present) might seem overwhelming to some, but, if you’re patient and strap in for the ride, you will be rewarded for sticking through until the cathartic and moving final episodes.
The first episode doesn’t hold the viewers hand and walk them into this world…it throws them in head first sending them to multiple cities around the country, introducing them to many different characters and providing them with some horrific imagery that will leave them scratching their head in the best way possible while encouraging them to move on to the next episode. However, there is a part of me that wishes Netflix released episodes of this series weekly in order to let the viewer process everything they’re watching and take a break away from this world for a week. The first half of the show is quite slow with a lot of exposition, monologuing and melodrama. It’s entirely necessary, but, can be quite taxing for some…especially new-age horror fans who are only watching for the gore and high hopes to be scared stiff. While the first half of the series is full of a few truly terrifying sequences, it is very focused on the family and how they grew from innocent children to broken adults. Each episode furthers the mystery of Hill House as we are given pieces of the puzzle to figure out what tore this family apart.
The back half of the series is some of the strongest television I’ve seen all year…and, maybe in years. The writing is phenomenal and the direction is beyond confident (including an episode made up of a series of long, single takes); the performances from the cast across the board (kids and adults) are extremely controlled, compelling and raw. I found that the world Flanagan and Jackson created would bleed into my own reality proving that the horrors of life are sometimes more terrifying than the ones that are supernatural or seemingly fictional. The series is tough to watch at times due to its realism and exploration of topics that are hard for some to discuss, but, it handles it all with extreme sensitivity and class that the series as a whole is almost a form of therapy for those dealing with loss or trauma.
No matter how you take this review, The Haunting of Hill House is a show that needs to be viewed by many (horror or non-horror fans) and discussed in order to find a lot of the pieces of the puzzle that are laid out by Flanagan; because, everyone will walk away with something that resonated with them that others might not have caught. And, while this is a psychological family drama, it is classic horror at its absolute finest. There is one sequence in particular during the back half that shook me to my core from how well-timed, well-directed and unexpected the ‘scare’ was…writing this review it still gives me the chills. The series takes some unexpected turns that will the viewer leave exhausted at times, but, in the end they will be grateful they made the journey through the red door.
The Haunting of Hill House premiers October 12th only on Netflix.
Shannon Toohey is Editor-In-Chief of FanFest.com. She graduated from Hofstra University in 2015 with a B.A. in Journalism from the Lawrence Herbert School of Communications. Shannon has been a proud member of the Fan Fest team since 2013. Tweet her in your prettiest bird voice: @shannontoo