The Haunting of Hill House

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.

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

9 comments:

Billie Doux said...

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

sunbunny said...

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.

TheShadowKnows said...

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).

lisa menaster said...

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

Billie Doux said...

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

topher darling said...

SPOILERS

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.

An Honest Fangirl said...

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.

lisa menaster said...

Any chance the episodes could get reviewed individually?

Billie Doux said...

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