HAUNTING OF HILL HOUSE -- Grade: B
Updated: Nov 4, 2018
This well-produced, well-acted 10-episode thriller is rightly winning raves for its atmospheric mix of foreboding dread and solid family drama. And it has something to say about the #MeToo movement as well. But it could be a lot tighter...
The Haunting of Hill House, the latest buzzy drama from #Netflix, stars #CarlaGugino, #HenryThomas, #ElizabethReaser and a truly talented cast of youngsters in a 10-episode series based on the novel by acclaimed author #ShirleyJackson (The Lottery). The story follows a family of seven who move into a historic home with the hopes of restoring and flipping it to finance their own dream house. Of course, when things literally begin to go bump in the night, they soon realize that Hill House is much more than just your average HGTV fixer-upper.
Kind of a Cool Structure
The series moves back and forth through time, showing the five young Crain kids dealing with their seriously spooky childhoods, and the present, where the now-grown siblings remain heart-breakingly haunted by their past experiences. Each episode takes the point of view of one of the kids, and their stories are skillfully woven together, though it can be hard at times to follow the timeline.
The first six episodes zoom by, but then, as with other prestige adaptations like Sharp Objects, the strain of stretching out a novel into a 10-episode series starts to show.
I'd skip Episodes 7 and 8, and move right to the two-part finale, though it too begins to drag.
There are definitely enough horror elements and shock moments to satisfy a Netflix viewer looking for some Halloween thrills and chills. And as with any good suspense story -- especially one by the brilliant Jackson -- those scares are a means to convey some deeper truths about society in general. The series has a lot to say about complicated family relationships and resentments in adulthood, and how your rep as the baby, the screw-up, the responsible one or the misfit can become self-fulfilling prophecies.
Of course, there are lots of ways to interpret a novel. The original 1963 film adaptation, and this one too, deals with the possibility that hereditary mental illness -- and not supernatural phenomena -- is behind all this mayhem. The terror of realizing that your family is "cursed" is all too real and makes a great metaphor.
And there's another subtext here too. As the younger children struggle to get their parents to believe the horrible things they've seen in the house, The Haunting also becomes an effective commentary on the #MeToo movement.
(#FemmeCritic bonus points for that.) These monsters do exist, and the adults' dismissive attitudes have a grave effect on these young kids' futures. It's a tragedy on all sides.
Behind the Scenes
The Haunting of Hill House was a family affair behind the camera as well -- #MikeFlanagan, the show-runner, directed all 10 episodes, and the series stars his wife Kate Siegel. Flanagan's built a solid company of actors too. The always-excellent Carla Gugino appeared in Flanagan's 2017 Stephen King adaptation Gerald's Game on Netflix. He also directed Ouija: Origin of Evil, which just happened to star Elizabeth Reaser and Henry Thomas.
One of the strongest episodes is written by Meredith Averill, who's been on staff of female-forward shows like The Good Wife and Jane the Virgin. Her script for Episode 5, "The Bent-Neck Lady," is both creepy and tragic -- and makes for the most memorable and emotionally-powerful segment of the entire series. Episode 6 is a standout as well, shot in five long takes, edited together to appear as one. Check out Mike Flanagan's cool Twitter thread on how he accomplished this feat.
Femme Critic Score:
Female Leads: Ensemble cast features four women characters, but truthfully the series is led by a male.
Female Directors: Zero
Female Writers: 4.5 out of 10 episodes
Passes the Bechdel Test: Yes, but there is some unnecessary romantic drama between two of the sisters.