|Carla Gugino in The Haunting of Hill House|
Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House has long been considered one of the true classics of horror fiction. The frightening novel (which counts authors like Stephen King among its most ardent fans) has been adapted for the screen twice. The first version was director Robert Wise’s The Haunting (1963), a well-received adaptation featuring Claire Bloom and Julie Harris. The 1998 remake, directed by Jan de Bont, starred Liam Neeson and Catherine Zeta-Jones. That special effects laden film strayed significantly from the original story, and was a box office failure. Now writer-director Mike Flanagan has created a new version of the story for Netflix. The 10 episode series, The Haunting of Hill House, is an atmospheric, chilling tale of the disintegration of a family, and the devastating effect that the evil title dwelling has on them.
The series tells the story of Hugh and Olivia Crain. They temporarily move into Hill House, a Massachusetts mansion, with the intention of fixing the place up and later selling it. Their five children, Steven, Shirley, Theo and twins Luke and Eleanor, come along for the journey. What should have been a relatively simple opportunity to flip a house turns into the most terrifying experience of their lives. The house seems to be alive, and preys on the fears and insecurities of the family; multiple ghosts appear, strange events occur, and each time they happen, the paranormal events become more and more disturbing. It all leads to a horrifying night on which Olivia ends up dead under mysterious circumstances, and the family is forced to flee the house. This series of events continues to haunt the Crains throughout their lives.
|Michael Huisman and Timothy Hutton|
Olivia’s death (and the pervasive influence of the house) fractures the family in ways that resonate across the years. Each member of the Crain family deals with the events that occurred in the house in different ways. Luke ends up a drug addict to numb his pain. Steven (despite not believing in ghosts or the occult) becomes a best-selling author of true-life ghost stories, including one based on the family’s experiences. Theo works as a therapist helping abused and traumatized children. Shirley operates a funeral home with her husband. Their father becomes a recluse who doesn't stay in touch with the family. But Eleanor (Nellie) is perhaps the most traumatized by her experiences, suffering from night terrors and sleep paralysis. She may hold the key to freeing the family from the house's dark influence.
The casting is perfect, and the performances are excellent across the board. The actors portraying the younger versions of the characters are well matched with their older counterparts. The stars include familiar faces such as Timothy Hutton, Carla Gugino and Annabeth Gish, as well as Michael Huisman, Henry Thomas (of ET fame) and Elizabeth Reaser. There are a number of “jump” scares throughout the series, but there’s also an unsettling atmosphere throughout each episode that builds to a crescendo of uneasiness, dread and real terror. The intensity level ramps up as the series moves forward, and the ultimate confrontation between the Crain family and the evil that lurks within Hill House will frighten you, amaze you and perhaps even bring a tear to your eye. And if you love ghosts, the show is tailor made for you, as there are multiple spirits, both good and evil, which appear throughout the story.
The carefully structured story of this "re-imagining" of the book moves around in time, flashing back and forth in a puzzle box style reminiscent of the series Lost. The transitions between the different time periods are cleverly done. Writer-director Flanagan (Oculus, Hush) and his crew deliver a brilliantly executed look and style to the series, especially in the startling sixth episode, which is built around several long continuous shots. There are also some clever callbacks and Easter eggs for fans of the original novel. I’ve tried to avoid revealing too much about the show, so that those who like to binge view their series spoiler-free can thoroughly enjoy the experience of watching the story and its twists and turns unfold. I highly recommend The Haunting of Hill House to fans of intelligent, well-crafted horror tales. Here’s a link to a trailer for the series: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G9OzG53VwIk.