Netflix's 'The Haunting of Hill House' review: A slow burner, with ample doses of pure, unadulterated horror
Netflix's 'The Haunting of Hill House' has proven to be quite the success, and that's thanks in part to its incredible storyline
It was always going to be difficult to stand out in the ocean of competition in the horror genre, especially in the month of October when networks ready their most-awaited releases, but Netflix seems to have hit the nail on the head. 'The Haunting of Hill House' released this past week to some stellar reviews from critics as well as audiences, has done what many thought previously impossible: made audiences forget about 'Stranger Things'.
Netflix had, by mistake or by design, made the retro, nostalgia-inducing 80s throwback series about five likable pre-teens its October tradition, only to suddenly decide that the third season would be held back for mid-2019. The gaping hole left during its Halloween programming needed to be filled, and 'The Haunting of Hill House' may have been an unlikely candidate initially, but that's far from the truth now.
The streaming giant would bring Mike Flanagan on to adapt the series from the Shirley Jackson's seminal 1959 gothic horror novel, and for good reason. The director had already earned quite a name for himself after helming Stephen's King's "unadaptable" 'Gerald's Game', and his work on the likes of 'Oculus' and 'Absentia' had made him one of the industry's most in-demand horror specialists. And as it turns out, his expertise would prove pivotal to the series earning its rave plaudits and possibly becoming one of the year's biggest hits. We implore that you check the show out for yourself, but if you're one of those who finds themselves with a packed schedule this holiday season, we've prepared a brief synopsis for you.
Caution, potential spoilers ahead:
The series revolves around the Crain family, house renovators Hugh and Olivia Crain, and their five children Steven, Shirley, Theo, and twins Luke and Nellie. Directed to tell the story in a non-linear fashion, 'The Haunting of Hill House' switches narratives constantly between the past and the present, unspooling the terror the five siblings experience in their adult lives as a result of their experiences living in the house.
The family had stayed there for all of one summer but were each subjected to their own personal hell in the meantime; a personal hell that would inadvertently impact their career and life choices without them ever realizing it.
Present day sees Steve, the eldest, a successful writer after his take on their childhood experiences in the form of a book called 'The Haunting of Hill House' made him a celebrated author; Shirley, horrified by her mother's suicide, sets up shop in the funeral business; Theo, always cold, calculated, and logical, is now a child psychologist; Nellie finds herself suffering from sleep paralysis and haunted by the 'bent-neck lady' and seeks out therapy from a sleep technician who ends up becoming her husband; and Luke suffers from a debilitating heroin addiction after the terrors that haunted him in Hill House follow him around even in adulthood.
While their childhood was punctuated with the suicide of their mother — an event that is rushed over and remains unexplained till the very end — it's Nellie's death that causes the heartbreak this time around. Their youngest sibling, who had seemed distressed and reached for help, had driven herself to Hill House and killed herself. It's almost as if the house is trying to finish something that started all those decades ago, and the siblings will have to band together to put an end to the hauntings once and for all.
Instead of jumping straight into the thick of the action, 'The Haunting of Hill House' is quite the slow burner, but with ample doses of pure, unadulterated horror peppered in between. It takes its sweet time to bring the audience up-to-day with the present day happenings, taking multiple glimpses into the lives of each of the siblings, and how they're dealing with their past in their own unique ways.
The first five episodes each deal with the past and present lives of one of the siblings, starting from the eldest and then building up towards the youngest and arguably most important, Nellie.
Steve, ever the skeptic despite his dealings in horror novels and the only one to have not experienced any supernatural events so far, is confronted with a petrifying apparition of Nellie following her death. We see why Shirley takes up her profession and her earliest brush with death when some kittens she finds on the house premises end up infected and dead. Theo is shown to have special abilities that allow her to touch and feel beyond the normal, though it seems Nellie's corpse has traumatized her more than most. Luke, oscillating between addiction and recovery, seems to have finally pulled it together, only for the severance of his "special connection" with twin Nellie to send him on a downward spiral once again. And Nellie, depressed after her husband suddenly died, is beginning to see the "bent-neck lady" in her life again.
While they were inseparable in their childhood, life has seen the five grow apart for a variety of reasons and differences. However, Nellie's death forces them to come together once again, much to their own dislike. But it's their father, Hugh, who is the universally disliked figure. He leaves them in the care of their aunt following the suicide of his wife and is an absent figure for the entirety of their teens, chalking it down later to wanting to protect them. All five are now in the same room for Nellie's funeral as a freak storm rages outside, and it sets up quite an explosive encounter, though it would ultimately prove to be quite cathartic as well.
It's at this point that all the events start coming together and the story begins falling into place. Bit by bit and piece by piece, the night of their mother's death begin taking shape, and the parallels to Nellie's death become apparent.
The hauntings are increasing in frequency too, slowly driving each of the four siblings to madness. Luke is the first to crack after a harrowing experience during Nellie's burial leaves him convinced that burning the house down remains the only viable option. He steals Shirley's car and credit card — a pattern of behavior that he's previously exhibited and was chalked off to his heroin addiction — to complete the deed, and when the others realize his intentions, they follow in close pursuit.
A final showdown at the house follows and there's a revelation of what's lying behind the dreaded red door. The house makes Steven, Shirley, Theo, Luke, and Hugh live through some of their worst nightmares, though they are eventually saved by the intervention of someone they had thought long gone. It did seem as though their chapter in the storied mansion had finally come to a close, but an open ending leaves audiences with the possibility of a second season that may have further scares in store.