I heard much about this new Netflix original series, and saw a couple of trailers for The Haunting of Hill House, before it premiered this month. Typically I don’t watch scary movies, if they are primarily geared toward gore or making the audience jump. However, this series is based upon the 1959 gothic horror novel by Shirley Jackson, which is considered one of the best literary ghost stories ever published.
The Haunting of Hill House inspired other authors and filmmakers, such as Stephen King, and generated two films before Netflix created the ten episode series. The first Haunting of Hill house film, released in 1963, was in turns terrifying to me and fascinating. It scared me, as a child who experienced hauntings of my own, and yet I could not look away. With these connections to the story, I had to see this newest creation.
Cast and Crew
The Haunting of Hill House stars Timothy Hutton, Henry Thomas, Carla Gugino, Michiel Huisman, Paxton Singleton, Elizabeth Reaser, Lulu Wilson, Kate Siegel, McKenna Grace, Oliver Jackson-Cohen, Julian Hilliard, Victoria Pedretti, and Violet McGraw. The horror/drama, created and directed by Mike Flanagan, carries a MA rating for scary scenes, adult themes, language and violence, and each episode has a run time of 50 minutes.
The Story of Hill House
Hugh Crain (Thomas and Hutton) and his wife Olivia (Gugino) purchase a huge old mansion that has been vacant for many years. Known by the locals as Hill House, Hugh and Liv intend to restore the property to its former glory and then flip it. Selling this house takes the Crains one step closer to building and settling into their dream home. Hugh doesn’t pay attention to the fact that everyone who is familiar with the house refuses to stay in it after dark. Even its long time caretakers make sure they are away before the sun sets. Hugh and Liv move in with their five young children…Steven (Huisman and Singleton), Shirley (Reaser and Wilson), Theodora (Siegel and Grace), Luke (Jackson-Cohen and Hilliard) and Nell (Pedretti and McGraw).
The story moves back and forth between the past and the present day, detailing the strange and disturbing events that took place in Hill House and showing how they affected the children into their adulthood. The haunting that takes place is not just a physical occurrence that stigmatizes the house, it has psychological and emotional consequences that remain with the former occupants all of their lives. The story is as much, or perhaps even more so, about how the family learns to deal with the trauma, guilt and shame that overshadows each of them, as it is what creeps about in Hill House.
Thoughts on The Haunting of Hill House
I don’t want to talk about the storyline any more than that brief summary. This is a series that is best viewed without a lot of prior knowledge. Watch it and experience it and let it unfold.
I will share some personal thoughts.
This is an extremely well done spooky series. On a scale of 1 – 10, with 1 being “nah, it’s not scary at all” and 10 being “watch it with a friend during daylight hours” the scare factor hovers around a 3 or 4, for me. At times it elevates briefly to an 8. And at times it isn’t scary at all. It’s sad and troubling. As a bonus, Netflix creates an incredible backdrop for the action that is full of dark surprises. Many of those extra details escape the human eye initially, although the viewer may wonder why they suddenly feel the hair rising on the back of the neck.
What I love most about this series is that it tells a story about family relationships. The first five episodes focus on each of the children, and we see what happens, at Hill House and later in their lives, from their unique perspectives. We see how the children relate to each other and the past, and how some were affected more greatly by the haunting than others were.
Many times my eyes filled with tears, as raw emotions bubbled up in Shirley or Theo or Luke, feelings such as anger, fear, resentment, sibling love and bonding, sibling rivalry and jealousy. Every child had a role that they fulfilled when they were young. As adults they realize how much those roles were shaped by what they encountered and experienced.
We Are All Haunted
Ghosts and jumps and bumps in the night aside, The Haunting of Hill House reminds me that we are all haunted to some extent by our pasts. Until we work to free ourselves from those troubling episodes that we’ve all had, they will continue to affect us and shape us.
I’ve seen this as true in my own life, from the fears I carried forward from my childhood to my fierce independence to the way I handle current situations, if I allow myself to fall back into default mode. Exorcising the ghosts from our pasts clears the way for light and wholeness and fresh ways to respond to events.
Such revelations make The Haunting of Hill House a powerful series to watch and re-watch. Netflix got it right. Still, even with all the insights and the deeper stories, I’d recommend viewing the first few episodes during the day! It is a haunting story, after all.