A new Netflix show loosely based on a 1959 Shirley Jackson gothic horror novel premiered Oct. 12. The single-season “The Haunting of Hill House” combines true horror with psychological thriller, going beyond the basic haunted house story and incorporating grief, mental illness, addiction and familial tension.
The show, directed and produced by Mike Flanagan, is masterful, deemed by writer Stephen King “close to a work of genius.” Just in time for Halloween, this eerie show follows the Crain family, Liv (Carla Gugino) and Hugh (Henry Thomas) Crain, and their five children as they navigate their past at “Hill House” These children, from oldest to youngest, Steve (Michiel Huisman), Shirley (Elizabeth Reaser), Theo, (Kate Siegel), and twins Luke (Oliver Jackson-Cohen) and Nell (Victoria Pedretti), drive the plot through flashbacks as the scars from those memories impact their adult lives.
The biggest strengths of the show are its creative camera work and masterful acting. Several characters have scene-stealing monologues, some lasting for up to four minutes of a single shot on one character the camera work is artfully done, often employing wide shots so that viewers are aware of background elements that the characters in the show aren’t. One specific shot pans for several minutes around characters in the middle of a room, revealing dark shadows and unfamiliar faces in the background that the family is seemingly unaware of and that viewers might just miss if they looked away for even a second.
The mastery of this show is not just the terrifying ghosts and gloomy setting, but the complex and personal family dynamic that drives the compelling plot. The timelines of each character seemingly run parallel lines until they cross over in complicated and intricate ways. This is very rewarding for careful viewers as these nuanced references back to previous episodes are key components of a full understanding of the storyline.
The only flaw with this show are the budget concerns, as some sets and props look cheaply made and are at times unconvincing, including Shirley’s home which hosts a lot of action towards the end of the series and is very dull compared to other featured settings. It seems that a majority of the show’s budget went into CGI and the set of “Hill House” itself, which is beautifully designed. This house is one of the most compelling aspects of the show as the plot bases itself primarily there, but the viewer never quite feels at home. Every time a character enters a new room, the viewer feels unsettled, as if a ghost could reveal itself at any moment, or that the setting, despite being such a main focus of the show, is unfamiliar.
“The Haunting of Hill House” will have you on the edge of your seat for all 10 episodes, if not for the jump-scares and never-ending horror, then for the family drama that ensues throughout the entire show. Each character is very complicated, their stories only being revealed very slowly through individual episodes which seamlessly come together in the end.
All the intricacies of this show and the dedication to show-stopping directing is what has made this the show to watch this October.