In this spooky Netflix adaptation of Shirley Jackson’s 1959 novel, the Crain family spends a summer living in an unsettling house. Then tragedy strikes, and they must confront the hauntings that have shaped their lives.
The Haunting of Hill House, which first appeared in a 1958 horror classic, isn’t a typical ghost story; instead it’s a psychological thriller with well-timed jump scares and tangible characters. The show also touches on deeper, universal subjects like grief and trauma.
Flanagan’s storytelling is restrained and deliberate, akin to the more assured work of his debut film Absentia. He also draws inspiration from visual storytelling, using extended tracking shots to immerse viewers in the Crains’ world.
This is the type of storytelling that’s at home on a prestige drama, like Sharp Objects. It’s also the type of storytelling that focuses on character rather than plot and allows us to empathize with each individual.
As with any supernatural story, the hauntings in Hill House are not only a product of the house itself but also the emotional baggage that lingers there. The house, which Jackson based on accounts of famous haunted houses and writings by supernatural expert Nandor Fodor, is designed to tap into the idea that a structure is a metaphor for a person’s repressed trauma.
For the Crain family, Hill House is an extension of their past and an attempt to cope with their loss. Each member of the family experiences a kind of “Hill House disease” that causes them to become more and more obsessed with their childhood traumas.
Despite their own attempts to fix themselves, each of the Crain children ends up losing control and slipping into a state of depression or addiction. Luke (Jackson), for example, becomes addicted to drugs. He becomes an addict not only because he’s unable to deal with his memories, but because he’s lost himself to them.
Theodora, meanwhile, is able to sense the repressed trauma in people and objects, but she isn’t able to escape it. She tries to protect her siblings from the horrors of Hill House, but they soon find themselves entombed in its interiority.
Eleanor, the eldest and a psychiatrist, is an excellent foil to her sister, Nell (Kate Siegel). Eleanor is the logical and rational member of the Crain family; she’s always been there to help her sisters. But she too ends up buried in the house, trapped by her own traumas. She’s a victim of her own mind, and her desire to be a “normal” teen makes her even more vulnerable to the paranormal activity that takes place in Hill House.
She tries to make sense of her pain and the paranormal occurrences by going to therapy, but she can’t break free from the cycle of suffering. As a result, she’s the one who ends up in the most trouble.
While the show isn’t without flaws, it’s still a good, solid watch for fans of the genre. It’s also a good introduction to Mike Flanagan, who is an extremely talented writer and director.