Historically I haven’t really been a horror fan with regards to books or movies. I DNF’d Stephen King’s Under the Dome, don’t love the violence of Quentin Tarantino movies, and absolutely loathed The Bunker Diary. But it turns out pointless gore is what I don’t like, because lately I’ve been loving horror that falls more on the suspense-and-thriller side of things. I watched Netflix’s The Haunting of Hill House in celebration of spooky season.
The Haunting of Hill House, inspired by the Shirley Jackson book of the same name, tells the story of five siblings who spent a fateful summer in a home called Hill House. Their parents were working on flipping the house for resale, but got much more than they bargained for. Mysterious groundskeepers, strange sightings in the night, and a door that refuses to open culminate into one tragic evening. Now, all grown up, the five siblings and their father must confront the memories – and the ghosts – that haunt them.
The 10-episode series starts off by telling the story from each sibling’s perspective, flipping between the past and the present as the story weaves itself together. Each sibling’s episode brings new revelations and a different perspective to the terrifying events of the summer they spent at Hill House, and we see how the trauma has followed each sibling into adulthood. After the first 5 episodes, we start to learn the parents’ perspective, and it escalates from there when the siblings decide they must return to Hill House to vanquish their ghosts once and for all.
I am a huge sucker for family dramas, especially when it involves siblings. I love reading about sibling relationships, so it was a blast to get to look at five siblings both in childhood and as adults. This was a fantastically written series. Each character was very much their own person, and the casting director did an incredible job matching the adult versions of the characters to their child counterparts. The sets were gorgeous as well, with tons of detail that created both a homey and spooky ambiance by turn.
As far as the storytelling, I love when details that seem innocuous later return with significance, and this show was incredible for that. The first 5 episodes are spent laying breadcrumbs, and we get to pick them up in the last half of the show. That speaks to really good writing, which is always refreshing to see. The details about the door that wouldn’t open were especially well done. Out of all the revelations that come to light in the last few episodes, the one about the locked door was my favorite.
I also noticed several nods to the book that inspired the series, even having only read the first few chapters. The oldest sister’s name, Shirley, undoubtedly came from the original author herself, and the mother’s backstory matches the plot of the book. I’m sure there are other nuggets in there I missed since I haven’t finished the book, and it makes me excited to go back and finish it. I love when creators honor the inspiration for their work.
I also liked how this show treated death. Right before I began watching this, my grandma died. She is only the second family member I’ve ever lost; my other grandmother died between my freshman and sophomore years of college. Then, at 18, I didn’t really know what to do with death. My grandmother’s open casket viewing freaked me out so much that I couldn’t go in the room. (I regret that now.) In the years since, I’ve learned a lot more about death, mostly thanks to the channel Ask a Mortician. I may write a full post within this topic later on, but the takeaway is I was able to attend my grandma’s viewing this time around with a more open and empathetic, rather than fearful, mind. Given that all that was fresh, I really appreciated that the character Shirley was a mortician. There are several scenes of her preparing bodies for viewing and burial, and I was able to watch that and understand how it can be healing for the family. Without giving anything away, the end of the show also allows for the characters to begin processing a lot of grief they had all been holding back. For a show that’s technically in the horror genre, it had a surprisingly heartfelt ending.
There were only a couple things I disliked about this show. There were a few jump scares that felt gratuitous, and a few side charactes or comments that felt like they didn’t really get resolved. But overall, the good in this show far outweighed the bad. This is a great pick for horror veterans and horror newbies alike.
NaNoPoblano 2020: 2/30