THE HAUNTING OF HILL HOUSE (2018) – NETFLIX REVIEW
Based on: The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson
Created and Directed by: Mike Flanagan
Screenplay(s) by: Mike Flanagan, Liz Phang, Scott Kosar, Meredith Averill, Jeff Howard, Rebecca Klingel etc.
Executive producer(s): Mike Flanagan, Trevor Macy, Darryl Frank, Justin Falvey, Meredith Averill
Production company(s): Flanagan Film, Amblin Television, Paramount Television, Netflix
Starring: Michiel Huisman, Carla Gugino, Henry Thomas, Elizabeth Reaser, Oliver Jackson-Cohen, Kate Siegel, Victoria Pedretti, Lulu Wilson, Mckenna Grace, Timothy Hutton etc.
Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House is often proclaimed as one of the creepiest horror novels of all time. Made for the cinema twice, most memorably in 1963, by acclaimed director Robert Wise; who was perhaps so scared by the content his next film would be the musical Sound of Music (1965). Jokes aside, the novel is considered a classic and so genre filmmaker, Mike Flanagan, took on the task to bring it television over ten compelling episodes.
As Netflix produce a hell of a lot of original content I find it difficult to keep up with. However, I heard some decent buzz about The Haunting of Hill House, so decided to watch it before spoilers were plaguing the internet. From Jackson’s novel Flanagan has expanded the Hill House universe to bring an older ghost story bang up to date. Rather than centre on a seemingly disparate set of characters like the original, he has made the protagonists part of the same family. Therefore, the show is a confident mix of family drama, psychological and frightening horror.
Flanagan and his writing team structure the episodes on a back-and-forth spine which finds the Crain family, at first moving into Hill House as a young family. Mother and father are portrayed by Carla Gugino and Henry Thomas (later Timothy Hutton) respectively, and together they have five young children, the oldest Stephen being around thirteen years old. We then bounce from the past to the present to show the children grown up, working through various angst and dramas as adults. Safe to say, pretty much all their problems are caused by that fateful summer spent renovating Hill House.
Arguably, the biggest character of them all in the programme is the house itself. It is a foreboding presence which infects the lives of all the characters in youth and adulthood. Conversely we are drawn into a rich tapestry of: ghosts, suicide, despair, death, addiction, therapy, marriage, lies, hallucinations, mental illness, death and divorce. Throughout, we are plunged into Hill House’s bag of spooky tricks as the family are terrorized insidiously by the property.
Over ten brilliantly written episodes Mike Flanagan, his excellent cast and superb production team deliver some breath-taking horror moments. There’s also some chilling set-pieces, swooping camera-work, macabre monsters and really moving character monologues sprinkled within the scares and drama too. Most importantly, because of a careful and slow-build narrative, you really care what happens to the Crain family. This is also down to some excellent performances by the young children and older cast members.
I would argue that the usual Netflix format of ten episodes finds the story stretched during certain periods. Indeed, while the storytelling and horror pay-offs are brilliantly imagined, some editing would have made them feel even more powerful. Yet, as he demonstrated with horror films Oculus (2013), Hush (2016) and Gerald’s Game (2017), Mike Flanagan is a skilled filmmaker who has brought Shirley Jackson’s seminal novel to the screen with chilling acumen.