Review: The Haunting of Hill House

This review of The Haunting of Hill House is as spoiler-free as possible.

Netflix Original The Haunting of Hill House

Title: The Haunting of Hill House

Author: Netflix, based on the book by Shirley Jackson

Premise: An examination of a haunted house based on a back and forth between the childhood and adulthood of the survivors.

My Rating: 5 / 5

No live organism can continue to exist sanely under conditions of absolute reality.

I will dedicate the next couple of blog posts to horror and all things spooky
in celebration of Halloween.  The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson has been on my reading list forever but I have never gotten around to it.  Because of this I was super excited to see that it had been adapted for a Netflix series.

Defying the Trope

Right from the outset of the series, The Haunting of Hill House breaks the stereotypical haunted house trope.  In the classical haunted house scenario, the conflict is resolved nicely and the family drives away, finally safe from the terror.  The Haunting of Hill House throws this on its head by examining the adult lives of the survivors of Hill House.  At first, they seem to be pretty normal.  Their childhood is shown in their careers, but it does not completely rule their lives. 

Shirley is happily married, and owner of a funeral home. A little creepy but within the realms of ordinary. Steve is a writer who takes advantage of fake ghost stories to make money. Again, connected but perfectly typical. Theo is a child psychiatrist. Understandable and completely normal.  But, this is where things start to break down a bit. Luke is an addict, and this visibly hangs on all the other siblings heavily, a ghost in its own right.  Nellie is distraught and while, not as disrupted as Luke, she appears to be suffering a lot.

More and more is revealed as the episodes commence.  Like a layer of sanity being slowly peeled off of each of the characters.  The long reaching effects of Hill House are slowly and terrifyingly revealed to audience. 

Not Your Typical Scares

While the show is full of typical ghost scares and shock scares, it also has those slow scares.  The ones that build dread and anxiety up in your stomach brick by brick.  As the episodes roll by, the narration becomes more and more unreliable.  The line between nightmare and reality becomes horrendously and splendidly blurred.

I was expecting was more of a detailed history of the house; the ghosts and the origins of the haunting.  The story is not given seamlessly.  It is fed to the audience once tidbit at a time. At first I was disappointed but as I continued the series, I realized that the mystery lending a villainous quality to Hill House.  The house itself emerges as a character all on its own.  Many haunting stories rely on a certain event or certain characters from the past as the origin of the paranormal activity but Hill House offers no explanations, no safe story to neatly reassure your mind.

Final Thoughts

Making a horror story into a tv series poses a lot of unique challenges.  The story cannot rely solely on gore or shock scares.  Suspense needs to be built and the horror needs to be pace in a way that it still remains scary even (maybe especially) nine episodes in.  The Haunting of Hill House uses the longevity of a series to build dread in the audience in a wonderfully scary way. It reminded me a lot of the early American Horror Story seasons.  It isn’t just scary, it is thrilling and heartbreaking.  An unholy combination of ghosts and family drama.

It is also interesting to note that while based on the book by Shirley Jackson, the story is quite different.  I am definitely going to be picking up the book this month also.

Happy Halloween!

Have you watched the show yet? What did you think?

Further Reading

TV Review The Haunting of Hill House

The Haunting of Hill House Review

Horror Cliches the Ghostly Tropes That Never Die

The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson

Leave a Reply

Close Menu