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TV Review: The Haunting of Hill House

SYNOPSIS:  A modern reimagining of Shirley Jackson's iconic novel, The Haunting of Hill House explores a group of siblings who, as children, grew up in what would go on to become the most famous haunted house in the country. Now adults, and forced back together in the face of tragedy, the family must finally confront the ghosts of their past -- some of which still lurk in their minds while others may actually be stalking the shadows of Hill House.

The Haunting of Hill House, Drama, Horror, Netflix, Henry Thomas, Carla Gugino, Elizabeth Reaser

REVIEW: Shirley Jackson's novel THE HAUNTING OF HILL HOUSE is one of the greatest works of horror fiction ever written. In the decades since it's publication, it has been adapted twice, one a classic directed by Robert Wise and the other as a big budget flick by Jan DeBont. It has also inspired countless other haunted house movies that have never quite grasped the balance between psychological horror and jump scares. Just under sixty years since it first chilled readers, director Mike Flanagan has created an all new tale inspired by Jackson's original novel that takes the basic premise and characters and creates a nuanced and modern story that ends up rivalling the source material. The Haunting of Hill House is possibly the scariest thing you will watch this year and earns a spot alongside IT and HEREDITARY as the latest horror story that deserves the hype. Fans of the novel or the two previous film adaptations are in for a surprise as this Netflix series is a wholly original story that feels less like a series and more like a ten hour film.

Before you roll your eyes at the idea of a ten hour horror movie, believe me that the story Mike Flanagan has created needs that much time to develop. Rather than follow a scientist investigating a notorious haunted house with a collection of guinea pigs, this tale retains the idea of the house but puts a family in it who are forced to deal with the traumatic and supernatural occurences within. Led by patriarch Hugh Crain (Henry Thomas in flashbacks and Timothy Hutton in the contemporary sections), the family is comprised of mother Liv (Carla Gugino) and the five children Theo, Luke, Steven, Shirley, and Nell. If those names sound familiar, they are callbacks to names from the original novel as well as author Shirley Jackson. Hugh and Liv flip houses and plan to do the same with Hill House, but there are strange aspects of the home like the locked Red Room and messages scribbled on walls that begin to haunt the family members in different ways. There are also the Dudleys, caretakers who refuse to live on the property. Eventually, a tragic event forces the family from the home.

The Haunting of Hill House, Drama, Horror, Netflix, Henry Thomas, Carla Gugino, Elizabeth Reaser

That could alone have been enough of a story to focus this series on but instead, we see the Crain family during their time in Hill House as well as decades later. These narratives are intercut brilliantly and tell us how the events that unfolded at Hill House are having ramifications in the adult lives of the Crain kids. It is a technique that reminded me a great deal of Stephen King's IT. Both the adult (including Game of Thrones' Michiel Huisman, OUIJA: ORIGIN OF EVIL's Elizabeth Reaser and HUSH's Kate Siegel) and child actors (including CAPTAIN MARVEL's McKenna Grace and OUIJA: ORIGIN OF EVIL's Lulu Wilson) are great in their respective roles and the 10 episode format provides ample time for these characters to develop and for the viewer to become engaged with their plights. Over the first six episodes, we see multiple perspectives to the same events which all culminate with the family reuniting to come face to face with the evil lurking within Hill House. 

As a director, Mike Flanagan has been developing into one hell of a talent behind the camera. While I was not a fan of his first film, ABSENTIA, he has improved with each subsequent project. OCULUS was good, HUSH was a fun surprise, and OUJIA: ORIGIN OF EVIL was one of the best horror sequels I have seen. Last year's GERALD'S GAME was the result of a filmmaker coming into his own and now The Haunting of Hill House fills me with every confidence that Flanagan is going to do something truly special with DOCTOR SLEEP. The technical proficiency of managing the multiple timelines and matching them together seamlessly on this series is an achievement but just prepare yourself for the sixth episode which has only four cuts in the first fifty minutes. 

The Haunting of Hill House, Drama, Horror, Netflix, Henry Thomas, Carla Gugino, Elizabeth Reaser

So much of what works with The Haunting of Hill House is the sparingly used musical score and the use of shadow to convey horror. Robert Wise made THE HAUNTING a masterpiece by using sound rather than shoving scares at the audience. Make no mistake, there are some seriously scary moments in The Haunting of Hill House, but I found myself spending more time leading towards the screen to see what was going to happen while simultaneously pulling myself away because I know something is going to happen. There are other moments where you can see there is something horrible just behind the character or behind a door and rather than pull the camera away or cut to another angle, you are forced to stay right there and watch as the lurking terror wraps itself right around you. It takes a lot to scare me but The Haunting of Hill House had me sweating with anticipation for what was coming next. 

The Haunting of Hill House is unlike any other horror series I have ever seen. So many shows go for camp or parody, but this series works on both a visceral level as well as an intricate drama. You could easily remove all of the supernatural elements of the story and it would still work beautifully as a look at drama about a family dealing with pain, loss, addiction, and anger. Some of you may watch it and find it is a bit slow in places, but that deliberate pacing forces you to analyze the nooks and hidden crannies of Hill House in each frame. The house itself is a vital character and the production values in this series are another achievement but Mike Flanagan has crafted a series that is not just about a haunted house but more about haunted people and that alone makes this more than a run of the mill remake. If you are looking for something scary this Halloween, The Haunting of Hill House is mandatory viewing. I cannot help but think about these characters and multiple scenes days after watching them and that is what makes a great horror movie: it sticks with you. The Haunting of Hill House is the scariest and best drama you will watch this year.

The Haunting of Hill House premieres on October 12th on Netflix.

Source: JoBlo.com

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