The Haunting of Hill House follows the Crain family in both the past and present as they are haunted by memories from their past that threaten to tear them apart.
From the mind of one of the most promising modern horror directors in Mike Flanagan comes this chilling, haunting, but deeply emotional series about much more than just ghosts and jump-scares. This series is not without its flaws but it’s still a phenomenal work of modern horror that is unsettling even in its calmest moments. Mike Flanagan has had incredible hits recently with both Ouija: Origin of Evil (2016) and Gerald’s Game (2017) so to hear he was helming this 10-part Netflix series had me excited to say the least. His directing here is exquisite and how he executes all of the layers of horror in this series in incredible. It isn’t without the traditional ‘jump-scare’ horror, but Flanagan makes sure to capitalise on the psychological and thematic horror which is where this series is at its most effective. The story is told non-linearly and it helps in a number of ways to break up the action and emotional sequences and also to allow some mysteries to unfold in creative and shocking ways.
For those looking for all of the big jump-scares and the constant bombardment of ghosts jumping out of the dark, you won’t get that here. This series focuses more on setting up a terrifying atmosphere and letting that do all or most of the scaring. The slow pans, the sense of an evil presence looming in the dark but never truly being sure is what terrified me the most throughout this series. The subtle things and misdirection that Flanagan includes such as the faces and silhouettes of ghostly figures hidden in the background are phenomenal and build tension without having draw attention to them. You don’t need a sharp jolt of the camera and a loud bang sound to scare someone, sometimes just having a figure standing in the background is enough to build a creepy atmosphere and that is what Flanagan executes so well here.
It isn’t all just ghosts and spooks in the night though. The use of thematic and psychological horror is just as terrifying and just as important in the story being told. Loss, death, fear, addiction, adultery, failure, all of these things are terrifying and all of these are explored in one way or another to great effect. Seeing these characters who you grow attached to deal with all of these issues is horrifying in itself and Flanagan doesn’t hold back in exploring these themes making for some fascinatingly creepy content.
None of this horror would work if you didn’t care about the characters and their individual journeys, but you do as this series focuses on the characters as much as if nor more than the horror. The introductions to both the older and younger versions of these characters are great and Flanagan has done a fantastic job at making it very clear who’s who in the past and present as for obvious reasons different actors are portraying them. When I got connected to the characters in this family I felt for both their younger and older selves as the story forms a very strong bond between the two through great emotional storytelling and something so simple as scene/time transitions. The transitions between the past and present throughout this series are some of the most beautiful I’ve ever had the pleasure of witnessing. They’re all so clean and fluid and one scene bleeds into the next in a number of creative ways. It’s a small detail but it adds so much.
This is a story full of scares but also full of heart and genuinely emotional moments involving all of the main characters both young and old. The relationships between the siblings in this family are fascinating and seeing how they become closer or are ripped apart through their experiences is deeply engaging. For a horror series to execute the horror and the emotion at such a high standard it’s a testament to what Flanagan is able to do as a director.
He does not do it alone as he has bought along with him a cast of actors who are all absolutely fantastic at conveying fear as well as a whole range of emotions and share a great deal of chemistry with each other. I’ll focus first on the past cast which includes Carla Gugino (Olivia Crain), Henry Thomas (Hugh Crain), McKenna Grace (Theo Crain), Lulu Wilson (Shirley Crain), Julian Hilliard (Luke Crain), Violet McGraw (Nell Crain), and Paxton Singleton (Steven Crain) all of whom are fantastic. Gugino is a fantastic experienced actress and her talents are on full show here as she puts in a standout performance as the mother who goes through a lot to say the least. Henry Thomas also is great alongside Gugino and plays his character well in a number of compelling scenes. But where it’s at for me is with the kids. I love both Lulu Wilson and McKenna Grace in their past projects and they continue to show here that they have bright futures ahead of them both in and out of the horror genre. I had never seen Violet and Julian on screen before but they have come out of the gates hard with two great performances for their young age. This entire young cast was great and really sold the terror of the situations they were all in throughout the events of the series.
As for the present versions of the characters, there is a whole bunch of talent on that end too. Michael Huisman (Steven Crain), Victoria Pedretti (Nell Crain), Oliver Jackson-Cohen (Luke Crain), Elizabeth Reaser (Shirley Crain), and Kate Siegel (Theo Crain) play the adult counterparts to their characters and they deliver some of the more psychological horror in the series. They’re all great and the chemistry they have between them helps to really increase the impact of the more thematic horror and family issues their characters experience. Kate, Elizabeth, and Victoria stand out the most for me, I thought they had the most effective emotional arcs and the most engaging journeys throughout the season. It’s evident through this series that Flanagan likes to reuse actors from his past projects as all of Carla Gugino, Henry Thomas, Lulu Wilson, Elizabeth Reaser, and Kate Siegel have appeared in his other projects and I don’t blame him because there’s a lot of talent there.
As for all of the social media stories calling this the scariest series of all time that will induce vomiting and nausea that’s all clever social media marketing and I wouldn’t buy into it all too much going into the series. The approach to horror not everyone will widely love but for fans of the genre this is a must see. It’s packed full of great performances, a tonne of atmospheric scares and is one of the best horror series’ out there. It’s a gripping emotional story with engaging characters and will no doubt hold your attention right through to the end. I will close out by highlighting that you should look out for the entirety of episode 6 which is a horror masterpiece right down to a technical level as it’s filmed to look almost entirely like a single take.