By Carmen Saffioti
Published: November 7th, 2018
The Haunting of Hill House is the Netflix series adaptation of Shirley Jackson’s horror novel of the same name. The series centers around five siblings and their various traumas after living in a “haunted” house and coping with their mother’s death. If you’re expecting to be scared by this series, prepared to be disappointed– you’ll likely be pretty depressed instead. This is because, although the series has a backdrop of horror, at its core it is a family drama. The lore surrounding the house is pretty underdeveloped and disappointing at times, but what the show lacks in these areas it makes up for in intense character development. Each member of the Crain family gets their own episode, and important plot points are revisited from a different perspective, giving more depth to the story each time it is revisited. The show is definitely binge-worthy as you’ll get sucked into the characters’ lives and their traumas.
The Crains are (or were) a family of seven who during one summer stayed in a gothic mansion in order to renovate and flip the property for profit. However, things start to go eerily wrong when some of the children and the mother, Olivia (Carla Gugino), begin to see ghosts. Then suddenly, in the middle of the night, the children are taken away from the house by their father, Hugh (Henry Thomas/Timothy Hutton). The show switches back and forth between the present day and the summer that the Crains lived in Hill House. What’s interesting is that as the present continues, our ideas of the past are totally changed. The most jaw dropping example of this being (Major Spoiler) that Nelly (Victoria Pedretti) is “The Bent-Neck Lady.” This twist in particular is gut wrenching due to the nature of Nelly’s untimely death and the untimely death of her husband. In order to defeat their ghosts, the Crains must confront their past – both in a metaphorical and a literal sense – and again visit Hill House.
A thought that is planted in the heads of the viewers and the characters is that perhaps the events of Hill House and thereafter are a result of mental illness. This is emphasized when a character like Luke (Oliver Jackson-Cohen) admits that he uses heroin to cope with the visions of ghosts he sees. It comes to be revealed however that both are correct. The characters are truly being haunted by supernatural presences, but their mental illnesses are still just as real and as terrifying.
The Haunting of Hill House is definitely entertaining, but there are some areas where it is lacking. Personally, I was expecting villains with just as much depth and intrigue as main characters; instead, the main antagonists are two-dimensional and pretty corny. Poppy, a 1920s flapper, lures Olivia with the logic that her children cannot die if she instead kills them herself. This logic drives Olivia to try and kill Luke and Nelly with rat poison. Although this is horrifying, my ability to take Poppy seriously was hindered by her catchphrases like “screaming meanies” and other ridiculous 20s-esque jargon. It’s hard to find a character scary at all when she is written like a cartoon character.
The acting was okay for a Netflix show (some characters were more believable than others), but considering the heavy roles these actors had to carry, it was what you would expect. The child actors were probably the worst, but that’s not surprising. My biggest complaint is that the actors had to deliver long monologues about the various themes of the show. Not only were they awkward but I felt as though I was being beat over the head with the message of the show. This was unnecessary as the themes were pretty well incorporated and did not need to be explained through boring soliloquies.