The Haunting of Hill House: Come For the Ghosts, Stay For the Glamour
Every Saturday I share something I’ve watched in the past week (It’s often NOT in the past week, I’m working my way through a list. The more you know!), but sometimes I think something is so good that I devote a Tuesday/Thursday slot to it. I did it with Pitch (still not over it, never will be), Finder Keepers, and perhaps the prime example, The People v. OJ Simpson: American Crime Story. The latest masterpiece to get the solo post treatment is Netflix’s horror drama series The Haunting of Hill House.
You may be familiar with The Haunting of Hill House from its’ multiple adaptations over the years, or perhaps even from the original novel by Shirley Jackson. This series is incredibly loosely based on Jackson’s story - basically there’s a haunted house called Hill House, the characters share the same names and some personality traits - but that’s it. This may bother you, but there are enough references to Jackson to satisfy most purists, and the show is well done enough that it can stand on its own.
The thing that bothered me the most is that there is a novel called The Haunting of Hill House in the show (it’s our intro to the house and the Crain family) but in the show universe the book, as well as other stories of hauntings and horror, are written by eldest Crain child Steven (Michiel Huisman), who sucks. Steven and his four siblings lived in Hill House for a summer in the early 90s, when their parents (Carla Gugino WHO WE WILL GET TO, and Henry Thomas) were working on the house as a potential flip. Then, of course, the house turns out to be haaaaunted.
Each episode flips back and forth from the summer of ‘92 to the present day, focusing on one character, or one aspect of the story, until the final episode when it all comes together and we learn all the secrets of the Crain family, Hill House, and the ghouls, both literal and figurative, that have shaped this family.
Carla Gugino’s Olivia Crain is the most glamorous mother of five in the middle of a huge house remodel that I have ever seen. In a scene near the beginning of the series (that is revisited multiple times from multiple perspectives) she wears nude wedges with a bathrobe. This absolute LOOK has been permanently seared into my brain and I will think about it for the rest of my life. Olivia suffers from crippling migraines, and because of that (I assume?) she is almost always in a gorgeous flowing robe. Obviously the most iconic look is wedges-with-robe, but my personal favorite is this green floral number she wears with a contrasting ribbon belt. The effort this woman takes to go to bed! I MEAN.
But lest you think Olivia Crane is the only attractive mysterious woman on this series, there’s also Theo Crain, Olivia’s daughter. Theo wears gloves at all times (Another LOOK, suggested to her by her mother, QUEEN OF LOOKS) because she has a psychic ability triggered by touch. Theo is also a lesbian (who lives happily ever after I’LL HAVE YOU KNOW), and while you see her family learning this, and it’s discussed, it’s never a big deal, or a way of explaining some kind of… something (you know what I mean). Theo, as well as her twin younger siblings Nell and Luke, is one of the more likable Crain children. I CANNOT with Shirley and Steven, but they serve a purpose in the story, if only to make you empathize with their younger siblings.
Because the entire Crain family, apart from their impossibly glam matriarch, are each played by two actors in the two different eras, you get to see how they cast across time, and it is GOOD. They really found such great kids to play the little Crains, particularly Nell (Violet McGraw) and Luke (Julian Hilliard). You just want to scoop them up and carry them to safety, the precious tiny cuties. Young Nell, terrorized by sleep paralysis accentuated by seeing “The Bent Neck Lady,” is particularly empathy-inducing. Also, the reveal of the story behind The Bent Neck Lady is, in my opinion, the best reveal of the series and one I did not see coming.
Speaking of which, in the final episode, The Haunting of Hill House gets a little schlocky. They explain things that, if you’ve been paying, oh, ANY attention you must have figured out (Abigail and The Red Room, specifically) and I don’t think the overwrought explanations were necessary. But this is an opinion I have often, and it’s rarely shared by others.
The individual stories of the siblings are very quickly wrapped up, some more satisfyingly than others (ahem, THEO). This is commonly the case with shows that really go all out throughout their run - they have to end and all the BIG! EVENTS! have been used already and so the story just… closes. All that being said, as a whole The Haunting of Hill House is one of my favorite shows I’ve seen in a long time. From the scenery to the performances to the mystery, I was invested. I don’t often re-watch shows, but I can see myself rewatching this one, particularly episode 6 (There is SO MUCH about episode 6).
If you like your horror to be more mysterious, cinematic, and slow-burn, then this is the series to satisfy your spooky craving this season.