TV Critic Elinor Griffiths takes a look at Netflix’s latest supernatural release that is simultaneously thrilling and traumatising horror fans across the globe
The new Netflix series, The Haunting of Hill House, is a perfectly articulated and well-crafted rendition of Shirley Jackson’s gothic horror novel written in 1959, that entrances the audience from the very beginning. Its carefully sculptured and comprehensive storytelling, along with its emotional depth and profundity, gives the audience an insight into the lives of the Crain family, and shows the development of characters and their experiences whilst living at Hill House. It further illustrates each family member by showing their intimate and personal adjustments to adulthood since Hill House, and we slowly learn what happened on that momentous night through a series of flashbacks.
As you begin to dive deep into the mystery of the house, the story focuses its attention on the emotional trauma that the family endured when growing up at Hill House mansion. Steven, the oldest son, becomes an author, exploiting his and his family’s suffering even though he denies any supernatural or abnormal events. Shirley runs a funeral home with her husband, whilst Theodora lives in their guest house, specialising as a child’s psychologist. But, the most dramatic and heart-wrenching of them all is the lasting effects the house has on twins; Nelly and Luke. Nelly is mentally traumatised and suffers with sleep paralysis, where she continues to be haunted by a ghost she calls the ‘bent-neck lady’ and Luke is a drug addict, who spends most of his time in and out of rehab centres or stealing money from his siblings to buy more drugs. Although we get a detailed and distinct imagery of the children after their chilling experience, we get no insight into the life of their father and how he coped after that hellish night. It is simply left to people’s imagination.
What’s most interesting about seeing the children all grown up is how they have built their life around their childhood at Hill House, with their jobs centred around their belief or perhaps ignorance to what went on. Steven, who is arguably the most broken character, refuses to accept that the house was haunted and believes that his family is “mental”, Shirley appears to be living in denial and can’t comprehend that her life isn’t perfect and Theodora centres her life around evaluating the children’s emotional state and disorder, when her own behaviour is the most unstable.
A performance most astounding is that of Carla Gugino, portraying the character Olivia, the mother within the family unit, who is most appreciative of life and keeps her family humble and well grounded. As we see her mental state slowly decline, we also begin to see the closeness of the family begin to unravel, as well as the true horrors of the Hill House.
Mike Flanagan’s adaptation of Shirley Jackson’s novel encapsulates his understanding of what a modern audience wants to see from a horror and how they want to be frightened. You begin to realise that this classic and timeless horror series transfixes our attention by displaying dark, unfathomable imagery that allows us to feel a sense of enjoyment from also feeling terrified and perplexed. Flanagan grasps our attention through his innovative and fantastical narrative by advancing the story into an in-depth, emotional portrayal rather than producing a stereotypical gory horror that will leave the audience feeling detached and unresponsive. It is a true emotional drama that provokes tear-jerking emotions – a simply beautiful and stimulating journey that will most definitely leave you wanting more.