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The Haunting of Hill House: Season One

Review by An Honest Fangirl

The Haunting of Hill House
is a ten episode series that was released on Netflix recently. I thought that it was just going to be some silly haunted house show that would maybe have a few jump scares in it. It wasn't. I cried multiple times, I laughed, I jumped out of my skin, I was shocked, and I was profoundly disappointed.

This review will contain mild spoilers throughout. However, I will talk about the last episode in some detail at the end of the review, so be mindful of that heading if you haven't seen the whole series yet.

The series follows the Crain family, parents, Olivia and Hugh, and their five children, as they renovate a mansion known as the Hill House. Time is incredibly fluid, frequently shifting back and forth between them renovating Hill House in 1992, and the family dealing with new demons and ghosts, of both the supernatural and personal nature, in 2018.

Like a lot of really good horror recently, this show is about generational trauma. How do the challenges, heartbreaks, and mental and emotional scars from our childhood shape us as adults? How does experiencing these same things that we experience in adulthood shape us as elders? Every character is given their own episode to explore how they personally have answered these questions.

And the answer is obviously by the first fifteen minutes of the show: "Not well." By and large, these are not likable characters. Each member of the Crain family has major flaws and awful coping mechanisms that are ultimately incredibly destructive. They're frequently cruel to each other and themselves. Even the most sympathetic characters, like Nellie or Hugh, aren't immune to this.

But at the same time, I couldn't help but get deeply invested in each of their stories. I really felt for this family. I desperately wanted them to succeed and be happy, for their present day trials to provide an opportunity for healing and reconciliation. I'm not quite sure what it was exactly that had me so hooked on this show. The acting was a little spotty at times. A lot of the arguments or heated tirades felt wooden or forced, which brought me out of the moment. And this happened quite often, considering that the Crains' favorite way of speaking to each other is through yelling.

The writing itself was also at times uneven. There are a ton of super subtle moments that only make sense in the context of later episodes, which is fantastic. I loved that. But towards the end, there were a lot of multi-minute monologues where characters violently emote how they're feeling. Future thespians will have a field day with them, but the monologues helped to reinforce the sometimes awkward nature of the performances as a whole.

However, I definitely can't fault the show on its details. This is a show that you basically have to binge watch. There are so many small details that only make sense when looking at the entire story as a whole. Realizing the importance of these details was a lot of fun for me as a viewer, and my experience would have been lesser if I had spread it out over multiple months.

The one downside to this is that The Haunting of Hill House is an incredibly emotionally heavy show. It can take a lot out of you, especially considering the topics that it covers. I watched six episodes in one sitting and then needed to take a break that lasted over a week in order to emotionally reset myself.

Favorite Episode: Episode 6: "Two Storms." A lot of things come to a head this episode, and the tension that's been building finally reaches its bursting point. Also, the closing moments of the episode are some of the most powerful that I've seen in a very, very long time. I know that people say that something "gave them chills" but I had literal, distinct chills racing up and down my arms as the credits started, and that is something that has never happened to me before.

Least Favorite Episode: Episode 10: "Silence Lay Steadily." I'm really sad that this is my least favorite. You always want a show to stick the landing. Unfortunately, The Haunting of Hill House just... didn't. I wasn't satisfied with the ending. I was disappointed. Why? Well, I'm going to explain why below.

Seriously, spoilers for the last episode. Skip to Random Thoughts if you haven't seen it yet.

I am so confused about what the House actually was. So, I get that there's a Red Room, and that it functions as a stomach, eating people who live there, and that people who die there are trapped as ghosts. After that, I get confused. What drove Olivia to insanity? The house? The ghost of Poppy Hill? Underlying mental illness that was never really discussed?

Explaining away things in supernatural-driven stories is always a delicate line to walk. Over-explaining sucks all of the fun and mystery out of it. But muddy, confusing, and conflicting information is disappointing, especially when the mystery of what's in the room and what is really happening with the House drives so much of the central mystery.

I'm also a little disappointed with everyone's fates. Everyone got a happy ending, even Hugh. Everyone that is, except for Nellie. She died, brutally, becoming the very thing that has terrified her her entire life. There was no healing from her emotional scars. She saved everyone's life and then wound up in the Hill House forever. Maybe it was the realization that she felt more like a plot device or a deus ex machina than an actual character, despite having an entire episode focusing on her and who she was. I wanted more from her. And maybe a more complex ending than everything ending up perfectly with babies and reconciliation and sobriety.

Random Thoughts

Quick content warning: drug use and abuse, graphic bodily harm, graphic death, discussions of and about suicide. And because I know we have a lot of feline lovers on this site: episode 2 has multiple upsetting scenes involving kittens.

Apparently, there are multiple instances of ghosts hiding in the edges of the screen, watching the Crains during the flashbacks.

If you don't know already, this series was based on a book of the same name written by Shirley Jackson. They have basically nothing in common except for character names.

The sets really were gorgeous.

An Honest Fangirl loves superheroes, science fiction, fantasy, and really bad horror movies. 


  1. I stopped after the first episode because I was creeped out and now I'm glad. Thanks for kitten warning!

  2. Same as Billie! I’m pretty wussy when it comes to horror. Now I’m glad I didn’t push through knowing bad things happen to sweet furry little animals. Violence against animals in media is one of my real pet peeves. You’re just doing it to shock and it’s upsetting to a lot of people. Knock it off.

  3. SPOILERS (sort of)

    My feeling about the ending is that it's in keeping with the original novel, to some extent. One thing that's ambiguous about the novel (and original movie) is whether Hill House really contains anything independently malevolent, or whether it only contains what someone brings with them. Specifically, whether Hill House is haunted by "ghosts" (whatever that really means) or whether it's haunted, in some sense, by Eleanor. That issue really isn't resolved by the end of the book (and original movie).

    I believe the idea with the Red Room was similar: did it contain a malevolent force of its own, or did it only contain what someone brought with them (malice in the case of the nutty flapper whose name I don't remember, mental illness in the case of Mrs. Crain, benevolence in the case of Eleanor)? I didn't think this was a great adaptation of the book - it almost seemed like someone wrote an original script about a family that used to live in a haunted house first and tried to sell it as a Hill House adaptation second - but I do think the ending was in keeping with the major theme of the book (even if the tone of the ending was 180 degrees different).

  4. Does anyone know if this is a tv series or miniseries? Could it come back for another season?

  5. lisa menaster, I think it's a miniseries... until it gets a second season.


    I loved this show...up until the 6th episode. That wasn't the weakest episode but the 5th episode ended with such a jarring revelation that Nellie was her own ghost and, had the series ended there, I would have been happy. I was frustrated by the seemingly ridiculously staged drama of the brother-in-law and sister (who appears to be a lesbian up until this point) getting caught in an embrace but I really bought into Theo's explanation and it redeemed that moment for me but it was too late.

    The last episode was so bad that I did something I never do and yelled at the narrator during his last, very long, speech, telling him to shut up already. It was so disappointing. I agree with you that it's difficult with a supernatural horror series because over-explaining takes out the mystery but the audience is going to want some answers. Ugh.

    I've been advising people to watch it through the fifth episode and then just let it go, letting all of the loose ends be eternal mysteries.

  7. Yeah, it looks like it's just a miniseries. Although, if we do get a season 2, then it won't be the Crains. The creator is on record saying that their story is done.

    Topher, interesting that you really didn't like the sixth episode considering that it was my favorite. I would have been very disappointed if the season ended with Episode 5, assuming that nothing else was changed. I would want some kind of closure, some explanation of what happened that night all those years ago. (Granted, the explanation that we got was disappointing, but still.) But yeah, I really didn't like Steven's speeches, although a lot of them (especially the last one) felt like they were lifted directly from the book, so I couldn't be too upset.

  8. Any chance the episodes could get reviewed individually?

  9. lisa menaster, possibly, at some point. But I have to admit that we're all a bit overcommitted right now. :)

  10. I've just had the opportunity to watch the whole series and I really, really liked it - except the final episode.

    The reveal who bent-neck-lady was...jeebus! It really twisted my heart, soul and neck. Possibly one of the gloomiest moments I've ever seen. And wow did I feel Nell's dread and despair, falling through the ages.

    But like I said, I was disappointed by the ending. It felt like all the scare just fizzled out of it entirely.
    I mean what was the whole point of all the scary if no-one was scared in the end.

    And what about the ruined model house, and the ghoul that destroyed it?

    Too bad. I was hoping for more, much because I'm a real horror-fan and loved the pacing and photopgraphy of this series. The scene in the funeral home when the camera goes around and the adults become children and then back again, and when bent-neck-lady is standing in the background...great cinematography.

    What other scary, creepy, things would YOU recommend dear Doux-ers?

  11. Henrik, I'm terrible when it comes to recommending horror stories. I avoid them. :)

  12. Well, we all have our weaknesses. You're bound to not be awesome at something! :D

  13. I'm just popping in to say that I just watched the first episode and will read your review and the comments when I've seen the whole thing!

    1. Okay, wow. I'm still not reading the review but I'm now on episode 3 and it is amazing.

    2. Oh my god the statues are like the weeping angels and Hill House is like the Overlook Hotel.

  14. I really enjoyed this so much, and I'm grateful that you reviewed it, too: the main reason I picked it to watch after Fall of the House of Usher was that we had a review of it.

    Like you said, it's impossible not to get invested in these characters, even when they're not sympathetic. I was so amazed at the emotional nuance Flanagan created and the actors embodied in each role.

    I actually loved the monologues! After you highlighted a two-minute monologue in House of Usher I was keeping my eyes out for another. Mr. Dudley's monologue was my favorite.

    I'm a bit burned out on TV shows obsessing over childhood trauma and getting fixated on flashbacks, so at first, I didn't love the flashbacks/present-day structure. There was even a mild whooshing sound effect that reminded me of Lost, which (as far as I can tell) started the trend.

    Here, of course, it makes sense to focus on childhood, since these are all grown-ups who haven't ever escaped their childhood home or dynamics. Even Hugh: we never find out how he spent the intervening years, and it clearly doesn't matter. He was just enduring, until endurance wasn't enough.

    I think I'd need to watch it again to track this precisely, but in the first half, each episode was focalized through one character, but after Episode 6 (if that's the one with the amazing 360 tracking shot in the foyer) that structure broke down, allowing each subsequent episode to focus on numerous characters--because now that the family is back together, we can see how jumbled family history is.

    I didn't mind the lack of clarity about the processes or functions of the house and the red room, probably because I really like the ambiguity of the source material.

    Halfway through the show, I had thought that it was weird that the red room featured in the credits, but was so rarely seen. What a great twist when I realized how wrong I'd been!

    The end, the happy end, was...unexpected? I don't think of myself as a horror fan, so I thought it was both mawkish and delightful. Certainly not what I expected, but a pleasant, albeit saccharine, surprise.

    (And, yet: wow! The reveal of where the bent-neck lady came from was so horrifically dark. So we're all just fated, our ends are inescapable, they're haunting us even before we get to them. Damn. It's like Flanagan put the most terrible revelation in the middle of the series rather than at the end.)

    I did notice quite a few things lurking in backgrounds and the edges of the screen. So terrifying. So, so terrifying.

    I'm going to give Haunting of Bly Manor a try next. I realized after watching Usher that I had watched a few episodes of Murder Club, but it felt too juvenile for me. I'm not too optimistic about Bly Manor, since I don't like a huge focus on little kids in horror, and, although I love Henry James, I always associate Turn of the Screw with the first time I read it as a freshman in college.

    Totally random addendum: I was cooking dinner while watching the episode when Theo kissed her brother-in-law and somehow completed missed that scene. I didn't realize it had happened until Shirley started yelling about it, two episodes later. And you know what? It was not needed. Shirley being angry about the money would have been sufficient for that conflict to exist and be resolved.

    1. Josie, I'm so glad that you enjoyed it! You actually inspired me to start a rewatch; hadn't seen it since it first came out. It's a very different vibe than Usher, but still very enjoyable. I believe that Episode 6 is the one with the tracking shot, so I'll keep an eye out for that during my watch.

      The bent-neck lady continues to scare the crap out of me, mostly because of just how sad it is. It's truly horrific.

      I hope you enjoy Bly Manor! It's not as focused on kids as you might think. Obviously, it pulls from the source material, but there's a lot of other stuff dealing with the adult characters that I remember being very compelling.

    2. Oh my god I totally forgot that Henry Thomas played the young Hugh. Oh, this is so weird now after Usher!

    3. Oh, wow, I didn't even realize that was him.


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