Haunting of Hill House Revamps an Old Book with New Scares

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Abigail Quinn, Contributor

The 2018 Netflix original series “Haunting of Hill House” brings new life to an old book written in 1959 by Shirley Jackson. The ten-episode series is co-written, produced and directed by Mike Flanagan, a popular horror-movie director responsible for films such as: Hush, Gerald’s Game, Doctor Sleep and many others.

“Haunting of Hill House” is a unique story that has been remade and filmed many times under different names and all with slightly different interpretations of the original source material by Shirley Jackson. Flanagan’s unique interpretation generated much news coverage in the movie-producing world and acquired 32 movie-award nominations and nine wins according to IMDb, including the Bram Stoker award (2018) and the IGN summer movie awards (2018) in categories such as best TV series, best new TV series, best TV drama series and others. Website imdb.com gave “Haunting of Hill House” a 8.7 out on 10, a high score for a movie headlined by actress Victoria Pedretti (Nell Crain) whom has not appeared in a major motion picture prior to the filming of “Haunting of Hill House”.

The story begins with the young Nell Crain waking up from a nightmare, after being consoled by her older brother Steven. The camera pans to a tall, ghostly looming figure hovering just out of focus over young Nell. The episode then cuts to the present timeline. Steven, who is investigating a supposed haunted house for his newest novel, receives an alarming phone call from Nell that sets off a domino effect of alarming events, all leading the family back to where all the horror started: their old home, hill house. The series spends all of its time snapping back and forth between the past and the present at breakneck speed, revealing the pieces to the overarching story out of order and bit by bit.

Some of the episodes are filmed unique to all the others, drawing attention to their subliminal messages above all others. In the fifth episode titled “The Bent Neck Lady,” pieces of the overarching puzzle of ‘what is wrong with hill house’ begin to click into place with a satisfying snap. Flanagan used this opportunity to explore terrors from the view point of a young girl, specifically in this case Nell Crain. This episode goes even further beyond and replicates the sensation of being trapped in a nightmare with its constantly changing and dizzying scenery and scenarios that leave the viewer spinning but still all the same entirely invested in the outcome of the episode.

Episode six is also no stranger to unique film making techniques; “Two Storms” is comprised of several long single shot takes in which adult characters switch with their younger counterparts and subtle specters enter and exit seamlessly. At the midpoint of the episode aged Hugh Crain played by actor Timothy Hutton is depicted leaving the house of his older daughter Shirley (played by Elizabeth Reaser) in the present timeline and entering the main foyer of the old hill house in the past. This is all shot in one continuous scene, a feat in itself giving even a skeptic of the show a reason to grant an admirable nod toward the filmmakers.

David Fear of Rolling Stone describes the series as simply, “No one knows your weak spots and pressure points better than your kin.” He also adds on, “It keeps returning to how shared histories, blood relations and familial traumas have a habit of forever marking folks.” Each scare and moment of distress the characters face is just a shared, deeply-rooted trauma that bubbles to the surface.

Sadie Gennis from TV Guide lauded the series’ filmmakers by saying, “It’s as though Flanagan has taken Jackson’s original work, shattered it and then rearranged the pieces to create a completely original, but equally brilliant tale.”

In an age where every profitable property is turned into a multi-episode TV show or franchise, more and more small producers and small budget works turn their faces toward streaming services like Netflix or Hulu to get the job done. In the case of “Haunting of Hill House,” it worked in their favor, producing a left-field horror hit unlike any other. If at any point you are looking for your next binge-able Netflix series with a good core message about familial ties while equally dishing out horror like elements, “Haunting of Hill House” is the show for you.