I’ve tried to put off watching Netflix’s The Haunting of Hill House since last week because of all the hype surrounding this horror series. Even though I’m a big fan of horror, I wasn’t quite confident that I would be able to sit through the entire thing without scaring myself to death.
I actually tried watching the first episode alone at night and gave up after five minutes because it felt too omnimous. I decided to try again during my lunch break the next day (through Netflix episode downloaded the night prior), survived and binged on the rest of the nine episodes as soon as I got home. Let me tell you the dark circles under my eyes are well worth it. The hype is real and I’m saying this for good reason.
Synopsis: The Crains have been flipping houses for as long as they can remember, moving from house to house, fixing it up, selling the house and doing the same thing again with the next. They hit the jackpot when they land Hill House, a mansion which they intend to flip for a good price so they can build their own forever home. However, Hill House sits empty for a reason and the family of seven soon discover that the carefree summer they envisioned in the house will leave them with scars that will haunt them for the rest of their lives.
First off, let me just credit this show for the perfect marriage of excellent writing and amazing execution by director Mike Flanagan. It is very rare for horror franchises to pay such close attention to detail and development that The Haunting of Hill House immediately stands out from the very first episode and this runs consistently to the last. The Newton Brothers deserve a ton of credit for the low key but eerie music that truly builds up on the tension of the series for each scene, and the production and cinematography in this series could rival most big budget horrors and adds to the efefcetiveness of every sequence.
The Haunting of Hill House had an absolutely perfect cast of actors to play each part — Carla Gugino as Liv, the mentally unstable/clairvoyant mom; Henry Thomas and Timothy Hutton as Hugh, the dad who tries to fix everything on his own; Michael Huisman and Pax Singleton as Steve, the skeptical eldest brother; Elizabeth Reaser and Lulu Wilson as control freak Shirley; Kate Siegel and McKenna Grace as the “sensitive” Theo; Oliver Jackson Cohen and Julliard Hillard as the junkie Luke and finally, Victoria Pederetti and Violet McGraw as the youngest, Nell. The consistency in the portrayal of the characters from their childhood to the adulhood is also quite impressive and a credit to both the young cast and their adult counterparts.
Hats off to the team for the excellent transitioning from past to present that amply fleshed out the backstories of each of the Crain siblings and their dad. Each scene added a new perspective to what happened and served as another piece of the puzzle to build up the momentum for key revelations in the series. I for one, am a big fan of the bond between twins Luke and Nellie and their unwavering loyalty for one another amid the chaos that surrounds their family. The manner in which the story was laid out made sure that every viewer was on the same page with the characters emotionally and progressively and this became the core strength of this series.
From the very first episode, even before anything was revealed about the horrors of Hill House, the older versions of the characters were able to convey their dysfunction and literally delivered their hurt on a platter for audiences to see. Despite the discord, viewers can feel the connection among the characters and sense their pain. I loved that the series was able to develop these characters fully by giving them full episodes to tell their version of what happened that fateful night at the house. As their stories intersected at specific points, the stories become more complete and audiences begin to understand what drives each Crain sibling to act as they do creating empathy for this family who has suffered so much tragedy and loss in their lives.
The Haunting of Hill House did not merely focus on serving up jump scares to reinforce its horror element. Instead, it bides its time and spaces out the supernatural elements of the series and springs these scares at the most unexpected moments. After the shocking reveal at the end of episode 5, my goosebumps have still not subsided by the end of the opening credits of episiode 6 and there was another jump scare on the latter half of the series (I won’t spoil you) that made me jump off the bed in sheer shock. Very rarely do I experience this in watching horror and the severity of the my panic simply reinforces how effective these scares were.
The show takes its time to explore the past and its impact on the present, and it thoroughly establishes its questions about the supernatural and about mental health as well, and this will be one of the major lingering questions left in the minds of the viewers even after the series has ended. I only wish that the series took more time to delve into the history of Hill House and its former inhabitants, perhaps to explore the parallels of the Hills to the Crains.
I felt that despite the strong build up to a major showdown, the ending was a bit anticlimactic since the focus shifted to drama instead of the horror that one would expect of the finale. Still, once you get to think about it some more, it was still effective and it made a lot of sense. It seemed like the series wanted to provide relief and hope for remaining Crains after the horrors they have been through and it provided great closure after the long journey of the Crain siblings to finally achieve peace.
All in all, I have no doubt that The Haunting of Hill House has set a new bar for horror franchises for television with this 10-episode series. No cheap thrills for this one, but it gets viewers invested in the characters and makes them care what happens to these unfortunate souls after all they have been through. Its dark and sinister and its refreshing at the same time. Its weird to describe it like that but its exactly what it was. It was, in one word, brilliant.
Check out the trailer below: