By the end of The Haunting of Hill House I was in tears. I cried so hard my contacts were dirty and I was left with a headache and a bit of a heartache. While not all aspects of the series work, what the story does well it does very well. You fall in love with an imperfect kind family that has never recovered from the suicide of their mother. Their pain becomes your pain. The series is based on the novel by Shirley Jackson, and has long been named as the most perfectly written haunted house story ever written. Fans of the original know that many modern works got inspiration from Jackson's work. Stephen king and recently American Horror Story's murder house This newest rendition interestingly expands on ideas from King and American Horror Story.
Director Mike Flannagan's re-imagining of The Haunting of Hill House is about five siblings caught up in the tragedy of grief. The story focuses on the Craine family who bought the old Hill mansion to fix up and flip. During their short time there their mother ending up committing suicide and their father was left with questions as to if he was possibly to blame. Twenty five years later the children are still struggling with their loss and the possibility that perhaps their mother really didn't kill herself.
Steven (Michiel Huisman) the oldest child, is a skeptic and a famous bestselling author whose career was propelled by his family's ordeal . Shirley (Elizabeth Reaser) is a mortician, using her profession to exercise some semblance of control over the death and loss she experienced as a child. Theodora (Kate Siegel) is a child psychiatrist, whos psychic abilities keep her from forming bonds with others. Twins Luke (Oliver Jackson-Cohen) and Nell (Victoria Pedretti have a close bond that can't be broken. Luke copes with drugs, and is an addict who’s spent his entire life since Hill House numbing himself to forget. Neil struggles with sleep paralysis and visions of a 'bent neck girl' that has haunted her through her entire life.
Each family member gets their own episode where their version of now and their childhood mixed in with bits they can remember from their time spent at Hill House is brought to life. This allows the viewer to explore how different events can be seen from different vantage points and how different personalities feel, deal with pain, and cope.
That isn't to say this still isn't a horror story. There are scares, and they are quite effective. Flannagon is very good at creating tension. He seems to know that the scariest element of the film isn't necessarily the ghosts but the house itself and when it is front and center the series is at its most terrifying. Perhaps the biggest fear in the film however isn't the things that go bump in the night, but having to face those things without the people you love most. For fans of Gothic horror though, this aspect of the melancholy film will ring true. Those not familiar with the genera might confuse the film as one about family insanity or mid life crisis. The film doesn't use gore or tons of jump scares and still leave your feeling haunted by the end. This is no cheesy horror with characters that are not fleshed out surrounded by monsters that are more interesting than they are. The ending also let you see where season two might go, after all, the background of the home is never disclosed. I imagine the next season focusing on one of the families that came before the Crain family and each season giving us just a little more information about how the house came to be.
If something along the lines of SAW or even Halloween are your thing, then I can confidently say The Haunting of Hill House will probably not be your go to Halloween binge this year. If however, you don't mind theatrical speeches and a story told in a non linear perspective from different view points, then Flannagons adaption might be for you. The bittersweet ending will stay with you, leaving you unsettled long after you have seen the last episode.