October 2021 Horrors – The Haunting of Hill House (2018)


The Haunting of Hill House, 2018.

Created and directed by Mike Flanagan
With Michiel Huisman, Paxton Singleton, Carla Gugino, Henry Thomas, Elizabeth Reaser, Lulu Wilson, Oliver Jackson-Cohen, Julian Hilliard, Kate Siegel, McKenna Grace, Victoria Pedretti, Violet McGraw and Timothy Hutton.


After a tragedy that caused them to flee the sinister Hill House as children, the now adult Crain family are forced to confront the terrifying force that has haunted them ever since.


The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson is often considered one of the greatest horror novels ever written. In 1963, Oscar-winning director Robert Wise adapted the novel into the acclaimed film titled The haunting, which we reviewed a few weeks ago, finding it to be a brilliantly spooky old school ghost story. Almost 60 years after the novel’s publication, modern-day horror master Mike Flanagan brings us The Haunting of Hill House, a ten-episode miniseries that honors and innovates on what came before while setting a new high bar for what televised horror is capable of.

To call The Haunting of Hill House an adaptation of Shirley Jackson’s novel is somewhat inaccurate, as the series wisely rejects Jackson’s plot that had already been brilliantly adapted by the 1963 film. By breaking free from the constraints of being a true description of the novel, Flanagan and his editorial team use it as a starting point to recontextualize his themes and ideas to create a new original story.


The series follows the plight of the Crain family as they attempt to come to terms with their traumatic past in the titular house, the story alternating between their terrifying childhoods and their tragic adult lives decades later. The show handles the dual narrative brilliantly, evenly balancing the two halves so as to ensure that one never dominates the other. Tonally, while on the surface a horror show, Hill House is much more. If anything, the series is arguably less of a horror show and more of a serious drama, with many of its best moments often keeping the horror elements to a minimum in favor of focusing on family dynamics.

The first half of the series takes a smart approach in that it takes place on the same days, choosing to tell the story of those days from the different angles of the Crain children, allowing for a variety of reactions to the different times that are. say again. For example, the image from the first episode of Nell (Victoria Pedretti), the youngest Crain, dancing alone in the dark void of Hill House, is downright eerie as she swings among the statues. However, when shown again in the fifth episode, that same scene takes on a much more poignant and tragic air as we see from the perspective of her emotionally broken mind.


The horror elements, for the most part, work well too. While the show uses jumping fears throughout, they manage to land most of the time, thanks to a formidable and terrifying build-up that is often scarier than the fear itself, as well as a rarity that keeps them from being become a crutch to show him to lean on. For example, a scene in which older sister Shirley, while alone in a morgue, sees the ghostly figure of her deceased mother on the slab. Then his mother stands up. The freezing silence creates a scary scene, with possible noisy fear, although maybe not as scary, at least feels deserved.

In my opinion, one of the scariest moments on the show comes when the middle child, Theodora (Kate Siegel), who is a child psychologist, treats a young girl haunted by a character she calls “Mr. Smiley “. To understand the monster that haunts his patient, Theo, who has psychic abilities that work through touch, visits the basement of the child’s foster home. Quickly discover the origins of Mr. Smileys via a genuinely disturbing scene that simultaneously shows little while showing just enough that we have a picture of who the real monster is haunting this child.


Explicitly scary moments aside, the show also has several great stages that allow for character development while adding to the myth of the titular house. One of those that stands out as one of my favorites is when the patriarch of the Crain family, Hugh (Henry Thomas) is in the basement with Mr. Dudley (Robert Longstreet), the gardener from Hill House. Mr Dudley then tells the story of his personal connection to the old building through his mother and then his wife. Nothing is happening at the moment. There is no fear of jumping, no hidden ghosts, no nothing. It’s just Mr. Dudley telling a story. But despite its simplicity, the atmosphere is dripping and dreadful as the story darkens, the moment he talks about his stillborn daughter and the way he and Mrs Dudley used to hear her screams in the dead of night being downright frightening. It’s a simple, yet masterful scene that, thanks to Longstreet’s brilliant writing, directing, and low-key performance, leaves you hooked with every word.

In addition to creating the series and serving as a showrunner, Flanagan is also responsible for directing all ten episodes, allowing the series to maintain a consistent tone and atmosphere throughout. Each hour of its performance is imbued with its very particular brand of infused drama, heavy monologue horror.


If the series as a whole is excellent, its sixth episode, entitled “Two Storms”, stands out as the best hour of the series for Flanagan and his team. A masterfully constructed hour that presents the double narrative via a series of long, extended takes lasting up to 17 minutes. Scenes set in the present choose to focus more on the dramatic side of things, with the actors delivering what could be their best performances. Navigate beautifully in nature rich in dialogues of their scenes, playing their roles with passion and intensity. The flashback sequences take a heavier horror-heavy approach, with the long takes allowing this episode to be the scariest, the lack of edits limiting the use of spooky jumps. The fear comes from the various things that suddenly appear / disappear or move as the camera shifts back and forth, making re-glances a must to capture any hidden fears. I particularly like the first instance of the episode where the story goes from the past to the present. Instead of a simple haircut, we follow an older Hugh Crain (Timothy Hutton) in the present as he walks down a hallway and turns a corner, suddenly finding himself walking the cavernous and menacing hallways of Hill House in the past. A crashing chandelier, signifying the first cut as he sees his young self (Henry Thomas) take the stage.

The Haunting of Hill House has a huge ensemble cast that delivers fantastic performance across the board. Child actors deserve considerable credit for their work, with young performers nailing their roles in ways that complement their adult counterparts and playing some of the best kid games I’ve seen in quite some time. Playing the role of the grown-up Crains, an equally brilliant cast. All of them manage to make their characters distinct from each other while also managing to feel believable as siblings. Even though the actors who are supposed to play twins are actually almost a decade apart, you still think they’re twins.


While I think it might be a bit unfair to pick favorites from the cast because they are all so brilliant, I have to praise the work of Victoria Pedretti and Carla Gugino in particular for their outstanding performances. Pedretti, as an adult Nell, paints a heartbreaking portrait of a young woman in the throes of anxiety and depression, her attempts to find happiness constantly thwarted by outside forces. Pedretti, portraying this mental fragility with a delicate vulnerability that is truly moving. Gugino as Olivia Crain, the late matriarch of the family, gives perhaps the most versatile performance of the set. Gugino, describing this transformation from a warm mother and into increasingly unbalanced danger with a subtle and unsettling air to her performance, especially in her certainty that she is doing what is best to “save” their children. These two might be my favorite performances, but once again I have to congratulate the entire cast, who all deliver superb performances throughout.

Masterfully crafted by Mike Flanagan and his team, showing the true potential of television by telling intricate and terrifying horror stories to rival and even better than that of the movies. A brilliant set, delivering phenomenal performances and formidable Flanagan direction throughout all 10 hours with a carefully crafted pace and execution that makes episode after episode viewing an addictive experience akin to reading a great novel. There is a lot to love The Haunting of Hill House (the rest is just confetti), and while I’ve tried to highlight as much as possible, there are a lot of things I couldn’t fit into this review without it being longer than Exodus ( or a monologue by Mike Flanagan). In short, The Haunting of Hill House is one of my favorite horror works in any medium, and I can’t recommend it highly enough.

Graeme robertson


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