The Haunting of Hill House: a Review
As any Netflix veteran will know, the streaming service is certainly not short on horror movies.
Whether you are looking for something that will give you nightmares or a good laugh at a terrifyingly bad, low budget horror film (Killer Mermaids, I’m looking at you) Netflix has it all. The site can be categorised into genres, and even sub-genres if you are looking for something more specific; such as a sci-fi movie specifically concerned with aliens, or a violent thriller.
What it lacks, however, is an abundance of horror TV shows – and no, Insatiable does not count. With the exceptions of American Horror Story, and perhaps Bates Motel, for me personally there has been a distinct lack of series' to scare myself with before bed. That is, until now.
Mike Flanagan’s reimagining of Shirley Jackson’s novel The Haunting of Hill House, has gained a truly horrific reputation in just a few weeks since its release on Netflix. The American series was released on 12th October 2018, and in just over a month has rocketed in popularity. 91% of viewers have positively reviewed the series, with its rating currently standing at 4.6 out of 5 stars on Rotten Tomatoes. More ‘sensitive’ viewers have even claimed to have been so scared by the ten-part series that they have fainted. Not bad for a show that is, at its core, centred on the most basic of gothic settings- a haunted house.
Yet this programme is so much more than a simple ghost story. While there are definitely frightening ghosts, jump-scares, creepy shadows, and harrowing apparitions, much of the intrigue surrounding the show lies in its disturbing, underlying themes. The show takes place in a common domestic space – the family home – and twists it beyond recognition. Feuds, violence, mental illness, addiction and claustrophobic family relationships fuel the drama, leaving the ghosts to simply fill in the gaps.
If I’m honest, the show was not what I was expecting. It didn’t make me jump every thirty seconds, a lot of the action actually happened during daylight hours, and I ended up sympathising with the Crain family more than I ever have with other characters in this genre. Each episode flicks seamlessly between the past and the present, as every good haunted house story should, yet I found myself itching for the flashbacks- wanting to physically shake the characters so that they would spit it out already – what the hell happened in the red room?
In some ways, the episodes felt elongated, at times more so than necessary, but then Flanagan would once again twist the knife and a new riddle would appear before the credits, along with the urge to press the ‘next episode’ button. In this way, the entire series of Hill House can be watched in just a few days (depending on your levels of restraint), and in fact can begin to seem like one, ten hours long, film.
My one main criticism, however, concerns the final instalment of this supernatural masterpiece. It should be noted that the show buries its claws in its audience right until the last twenty minutes or so when it then seems to simply… let go. In fact, if you are not one for perfectionism, you may not lose any of the impacts of the last nine episodes if you simply exit Netflix at this point. The Washington Post even went so far as to state that ‘until the final episode, The Haunting of Hill House is the perfect horror show.’
This does not mean to say that the show as a whole isn’t spectacular, and it is evident in the sheer volume of positive reviews and heated discussions on social media that Hill House has made quite the impact. As Rolling Stone put it, Hill House is a ‘better-than-decent stab at a supernatural story, the equivalent of a well-executed if slightly overlong bass solo.’
Without giving too much detail, I can assure any future viewers that it’s more than worth a watch. It will make you sad, it will make you uncomfortable, and it will one hundred per cent mess with your mind.