Earlier this month, Netflix rolled out it’s latest addition to their horror collection, The Haunting of Hill House. This ten-episode series is based on a 1959 book of the same name by Shirley Jackson, and while I have not yet read this novel, I have heard nothing but praise about the show from those who have. As a horror junkie, when I saw this title in my recommendations, at first, I ignored it. With a name like “The Haunting of blah blah blah…” I wasn’t expecting anything new or unique to the genre; seriously, how many haunting stories do we need? Apparently, the answer is, at least one more. The Haunting of Hill House was the best Netflix decision I’ve ever made; watching it at night by myself may have been the worst.
The story of Hill House isn’t really anything new, or so we’re lead to believe. A family of seven moves into an old house in hopes of flipping it for a profit they will use to build their dream home. Naturally, old houses come with history, and like any good spookfest, Hill House is chock full of it. At first, things go as you’d expect; it seems the family has encountered some sort of malicious presence and flees the house, leaving the mother, Olivia Crain, behind. Even with this straightforward premise, one we’ve seen a thousand times over, things don’t seem quite right; I mean, this is typically the end of the story, not the beginning. Over the next ten episodes, we are treated to a whirlwind of flashbacks of the siblings’ childhood and the days they spent in the house, and lurches forward and backward in the “present day” goings-on of the family over twenty-five years later. Each episode brings you deeper and deeper into the narrative and reveals more of the experiences this family went through, not only during their time in Hill House, but in the years since. The house has clearly left a mark on the Crain family, and this is evident in their everyday lives; they just can’t quite seem to escape this traumatizing time in their childhood. It is challenging for me to talk about the plot of The Haunting of Hill House without giving some key points away. Each episode is an adventure in itself, and as more of the story unfolds, you start to string together pieces of the puzzle and have a great many “Ah-ha!” moments. These revelations are what makes the show. Things are never what they seem; I’d become indigent when Netflix asked me if I was still watching.
I would love to give a standing ovation to the actors and actresses involved in this series; child and adult alike, the performances are near perfect. Now, I did say near, and that’s because there is one episode in particular, “Two Storms,” in which some of the acting is just a bit stiff, and I feel the dialogue delivery is clunky and unnatural for the situation. Granted, when you see the episode in question, it’s arguable that the situation itself is unnatural, and therefore the performance is perfect, but for my part, it is the one and only time I was jolted out of the story. That being said, the acting in The Haunting of Hill House is still some of the best I’ve seen in a very long time, especially from the children. Just in the first episode, there is a specific line delivery that gave me such deep chills I rewound and watched it again. It is so simplistic, and there is no real buildup or ambiance to influence how I received this sentence, but that is precisely why it is so horrifying. Dialogue and script aside, the amount of genuine feeling and expression behind each of these characters is riveting. I was moved to tears more than a few times throughout this series, and that is saying something. When I’m in horror mode, I’d say my empathy tends to take a back seat, but that simply is not the case here. I grew close to this family, and I shared in their pain; to achieve that while also scaring the absolute crap out of me is something to which every artist in this genre should aspire.
When it comes to the music and production design in The Haunting of Hill House, everything is perfect. I’m not saying this as a fan of the series; I’m saying this as someone who has taken in a LOT of media, specifically horror. The ambiance throughout each episode is always absolutely spot on to get the most out of you, the actor, and the situation at hand. From the most subtle details, like the multitude of ghosts hidden in every episode, to the stark character design meant to horrify you, everything lands. The sound effects are positively chilling; I genuinely live in fear of hearing a single sound that was produced by the crew working on this show, because none of them bode well. The music is moving and representative of the emotion being felt on screen at any given time, and I never felt disconnected from the scene because of a stray chord or note that just didn’t quite fit. The actual horror effects and makeup themselves are positively stunning. One episode in particular, “The Bent-Neck Lady,” left me in deep, visceral terror. I have never felt such a flood of remorse, fear, or panic from merely watching a scene play out in my entire life. This show is able to hit such a powerful note and make it seem effortless.
As you may have gathered so far, I think The Haunting of Hill House is scary as hell. Now, bear with me here, because this isn’t your stereotypical blood and guts or jump-scare horror. Hill House is psychological, so deeply that I encourage multiple viewings just to make sure you have the best chance of taking it all in. There are plenty of haunting images and great makeup/effects that bring out the more physical aspects of a scary story that you’re used to seeing, but the real threat, the real terror, exists in your mind. The Haunting of Hill House does a supremely thorough job of letting you inside the head of each of its characters, and this is what is so vitally important in psychological horror. You need to be able to FEEL the anguish this family feels to grasp how bone-chilling the story really is. Hill House taps into your empathy and uses it against you in such a brutal way it’s almost criminal, and I loved every second of it. I spent the last thirty minutes of the finale in tears; I’m not talking about a single tear running neatly down the cheek – I was on the verge of sobbing. If you don’t have this reaction to that final episode, please watch it again, because you are really missing out.
The Haunting of Hill House takes an area of horror we thought was thoroughly explored and turns it on its head. There is no linear approach to the story, no “I bet there’s gonna be a jump scare….now;” you are always left wondering what is next until, finally, it all makes sense and absolutely breaks your heart. Even with how perfect I feel the finale is, I still want more; I want to feel this many feels forever. In my opinion, this was the absolute best horror series I could have asked for during Halloween month. This is the story we deserve; these are the goosebumps we’ve been asking for. I will never be able to look at a dark corner the same way again, and I’m now terrified to be a parent. If you want a profoundly moving and chilling experience, please, watch The Haunting of Hill House, and then watch it again. Once you’ve watched it a third time, come back and talk with me, because I’ll be breaking down this series episode by episode, and I very much want to know what you have to say.
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