Inspired by the 1959 Shirley Jackson novel, Netflix’s 10-episode miniseries THE HAUNTING OF HILL HOUSE tells the story of a family struggling to survive a haunted house, both while they lived there in the past and in their separate lives in the present. It’s top-notch horror and the best ghost story I’ve seen on screen in years.
The first few episodes show us the lives of the Crain family, each story focused on one of five children who lived in Hill House and flashing between past and present. As children, they suffered bizarre experiences in the house until a horrifying night in which they were forced to flee their home. As adults, they are all connected but isolated, haunted in a different way now, by their memories, and by the need to protect themselves from the memory and lasting effects of what they’d experienced.
It’s a popular watch on Netflix, and I have to admit going into it I wasn’t sure what the fuss was about. I enjoyed what I was seeing, but I thought the show relied too heavily on jump scares that at times felt cheap. Then it all started to come together, most powerfully starting with episode 6, one of the tensest hours I’ve seen on television and where Timothy Hutton, playing present-day dad, really shined. From then on out, for me, it went from an enjoyable show to something completely riveting. It all builds to a very strong finale.
The series is only roughly based on the Shirley Jackson novel but pays homage to it in a very distinctive way–an emphasis on psychological horror. The house is insane, and its weapon is to drive its occupants insane as well until they die and stay forever.
As adults, the Crain kids are all pretty messed up by their childhood, with addiction, denial, controlling behavior, and self-isolation being rife among them. The house is calling to them, but we’re rarely sure if what the character is seeing is an actual apparition or the manifestation of a damaged psyche. Normally, I don’t go for that sort of thing in TV as the technique is often misused and cheapened, but it really works here. Similarly, the characters sometimes share what they see with each other but usually don’t, because what’s the point? It can’t be real, so nobody will acknowledge it as such.
In the end, THE HAUNTING OF HILL HOUSE is a very strong horror story about a haunting and being haunted, perfectly blending a ghost story with psychological horror the way the novel did.