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The Haunting of Hill House: A Horrifyingly Real Depiction of Family

By Emily Holleran
On November 2, 2018

It’s that time of the year again, for dusting away real spider webs to replace them with stretched cotton and turning on Netflix to watch another horror series about a haunted house. What makes The Haunting of Hill House, created by Mike Flanagan, different than most horror series, is that it is a show about a haunted house that is more than just a possessed structure that terrorizes its victims. The Netflix series has become a massive breakout hit—to those who are brave enough to watch all 10 episodes. 

More of a reimagining than a retelling, The Haunting of Hill House is based on Shirley Jackson’s 1959 gothic horror novel of the same name. Flanagan’s version focuses on a couple and their five children who take up temporary residence in the Hill House. As the title suggests, the house had more secrets than what was advertised, and the family’s time there is cut tragically short. The main storyline of the show takes place 26 years later, with the now-adult children and their estranged father, Hugh Crain (Henry Thomas), having to face their traumatic past once more. 

The first names of the children are borrowed from Jackson’s novel and even Jackson herself, but the characters are all original and hauntingly relatable. Steven (Michiel Huisman) is the oldest brother and the child who decides to profit on his family’s trauma by writing a novel loosely based on the events that took place at the Hill House. Shirley (Elizabeth Reaser) is the oldest sister, a stern mortician who refuses to believe in her other siblings. Theodora, played by Flanagan’s wife Kate Siegel, has an odd habit of wearing gloves that is explained later in the series, and serves to be the most supportive and rebellious of the older siblings. Twins Luke (Oliver Jackson-Cohen) and Eleonor (Victoria Pedretti) have experienced some of the more disturbing entities the house has thrown at the family. This leaves Luke struggling with addiction as an adult, and Eleonor constantly haunted by her childhood apparition she calls the “Bent-Neck Lady”—a name that is enough to send a spasm of shivers down my spine.

As a fan of the horror genre, I was glad the series took a more classical route for a consistent state of scariness rather than resorting to gore or cheap jump scares. The visuals are unnerving to the utmost degree. It’s as if Flanagan understands each of our fears and has created entities that encompass all of them. There was one scene in Episode 4, “The Twin Thing”, that made me want to induce myself into a coma, so I wouldn’t have to watch the rest of the scene play out. The horror, at times, might be too triggering from some people, but the series isn’t all about the aspect of striking fear into the audience. 

Some of the complaints towards the series may be that it isn’t scary—I don’t get how, even the switches between scenes made me jump—but the fear factor is also not the main point of the show in the first place. The Haunting of Hill House is a story about family dealing with the stages of grief, and how to deal with the death of someone who was taken too soon. Each of the children deal with the trauma in their own ways: Shirley having a morbid fascination with preserving bodies, Theodora using people to vent to and then emotionally distancing herself, even the calm and collected Steven has his own metaphorical demons he represses within himself. The parents, Hugh and Olivia (Carla Gugino), share some of the most emotional moments in the entire show. Olivia struggles with the idea of her children leaving her someday and Hugh grapples with the guilt of how he could’ve helped his family more. 

The Haunting of Hill House left me satisfied, but also left several questions unanswered in its bittersweet conclusion. There have already been rumors of a sequel, but I’m more interested in a prequel to explain the origins of titular house. Until the announcement of the continuation of this series, I will have to convince people to persevere through the slow-paced minutes of the first episode for an experience that is as sentimental as it is supernatural.

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