Horror is a genre not often explored on television. There are a handful of dramas that explore supernatural elements but none of them really sit in that same vein as their silver screen companions.
“American Horror Story” was the first show in a long time to really embrace the horror genre for all it has to offer and explore it in an episodic format. “The Walking Dead” and its spin-off “Fear the Walking Dead” could be considered great horror series, but zombies have always seemed segregated form traditional horror. Now, the original content mill that is Netflix has taken a crack at it.
“The Haunting of Hill House” is a new series from Netflix which released Oct. 12. It is a supernatural haunted house story that will have you properly spooked this Halloween season.
The series is based on a novel from 1959. “The Haunting of Hill House” was written by Shirley Jackson, a novelist who helped pioneer and push the horror genre to new heights in the middle of the twentieth century. Stephen King singled out “The Haunting of Hill House” and “The Turn of the Screw” by Henry James as “the only two great novels of the supernatural in the last hundred years.” This series is not the first adaption of the novel either, two films have already been made. One in 1963 by Robert Wise and the other in 1999 by Jan de Bont with Liam Neeson and Catherine Zeta-Jones, both shortening the title to just “The Haunting.”
In the show, the book’s concept is quite heavily revised. The show follows a family of seven whose time living in Hill House changes the course of their lives forever. The narrative bounces back and forth between 1992 and 2018, piecing together the story in a perfectly frustrating manner that keeps you asking more questions.
The first five episodes focus on each of the five kids in descending order: Steven, Shirley, Theodora, Luke and Eleanor. You see them during their time at Hill House as children and a wide portion of their adult life. The horror builds slowly throughout the series as you learn each child was more deeply affected by the house, and the mystery of what happened to their mother looms in the background.
The actors in this show do an excellent job. These are some of the best child actors we’ve seen since “Stranger Things.” McKenna Grace, Julian Hilliard and Violet McGraw, who play young Theodora, Luke and Eleanor respectively, give extremely strong performances. The adult cast is also very strong at handling both the complex storylines of the family’s drama and horror moments impeccably.
The true elegance of the show is in how well everything is shot and directed. Mike Flanagan created the series, and directed all ten episodes. He is known for his horror movies like “Hush,” “Oculus” and “Before I Wake,” all of which he also wrote. Flanagan has done well with movies, but does truly amazing work in the episodic format.
The transitions between the present and past are seamless, all led through simple movement or phrases. The tension builds so wonderfully, and the jump scares never feel like gimmicks.
The most impressive camera and acting work takes place in episode 6 where, in total, there are about five or six camera cuts. The scenes are filmed in long choreographed shots with the cameras constantly moving to follow the action of the actors and reveal the supernatural elements waiting in the wings. The movement of the camera is also used to build a tension of its own as the drama within the family comes to a head.
The show is gripping, elusive and honest. Yes, a show full of ghosts and hauntings is honest. It shows addiction and grieving and family feuds in a light that doesn’t overplay them for melodrama. At its core, the show is about the grieving process and living for a prolonged period with that emotion.
I highly recommend checking out this show, especially during this time of year. It is gathering quite a following from critics and viewers alike, so you will likely hear more about it for weeks to come.