Loosely based on Shirley Wilson’s classic 1959 novel of the same name, this Netflix series is a tour-de-force from writer-director Mike Flanagan and possibly one of the best of its kind this year.
The plot involves a group of siblings who, as children, grew up in Hill House – which would go on to become the most famous haunted house in the country. Now adults, and forced back together in the face of tragedy, the family must finally confront the ghosts of their past, some of which still lurk in their minds while others may actually be stalking the shadows of Hill House.
What elevates The Haunting of Hill House above most contemporary horror pieces is its non-linear narrative, the masterful direction and the strong performances from its ensemble cast.
That said, the manner in which the story unfolds : jumping from past to present, from dreams to reality without precious little audience hand holding, may also alienate confused viewers but once one is into the third or fourth episode, the series truly settles in for a magnificent, albeit terrifying, ride. Like the best roller-coasters, in fact!
The patriarch of the subject Crain family – Hugh – is portrayed brilliantly by two actors Henry Thomas (past) and Tim Hutton (present), with his wife Olivia given a sympathetic portrayal by Carla Guigino.
It’s impossible not to fall in love with their children viz. Steve (Paxton Singleton), Shirley (Lulu Wilson), Theodora (McKenna Grace), Luke (Julian Hilliard) and Nell (Violet McGraw) as they collectively and individually, encounter the ghostly denizens of Hill House.
Like Stephen King’s It, we see these children as damaged adults, Steve, now a horror novelist and an analogue for King himself (Michael Huisman), Shirly, a mortician (Elizabeth Reaser), Theodora, a child psychologist (Kate Siegal), Luke, a junkie (Oliver Jackson-Cohen) and Nell (Victoria Pedretti).
Through their eyes, the viewer is given glimpses of their Hill House experiences and the impact it has on their adult lives (not always chronologically). While this style of story-telling can be uncomfortable and confusing at times, it wonderfully pays off for the truly patient viewer.
Although it wraps up fairly satisfyingly, there are certain niggling moments that might not withstand closer scrutiny. A pervading sentimentality rubs against the idea of the house as a malevolent entity.
For me personally, there is also that nagging lack of clarity as to WHY Hill House is haunted? Sure, life is never quite so neat to reveal origins of everything that occurs BUT when it comes to story, it needs to be. It just does.
However, that is a minor infraction which is easily swept under the carpet. Along with Maniac, The Haunting of Hill House is one the best Netflix series of 2018. Don’t miss it!
… still there’s more …