Review: The Haunting of Hill House

The newest addition to Netflix’s line-up of original tv content is The Haunting of Hill House, joining the likes of other hit shows like Stranger Things and 13 Reasons Why. The show is a 10 episode modern reimagining of the novel of the same name, by Shirley Jackson, and is helmed by a veteran of the horror genre, Mike Flanagan. It follows siblings who, as children, grew up in what would go on to become the most famous haunted house in the country. Now, adults, they are forced back together in the face of tragedy and must finally confront the ghosts of their past. Some of those ghosts still lurk in their minds, while others may actually be stalking the shadows of Hill House.

Since its release, The Haunting of Hill House has sparked enormous attention and buzz, with word of mouth circulating around the internet that it is the scariest piece of horror out there at the moment, with all kinds of allegations as to how audiences have reacted to it. The show is honestly, the most over-hyped thing that I personally have seen in a long time, yet the experience was far from an appalling one. Quite frankly, this show is a drama above all else. It cares about its characters deeply and is fundamentally a character-driven show. Each episode serves to establish and penetrate the world of a particular character in a rather profound way. The first 5 episodes, all individually, focus on the siblings, substantiating their lives not only during their infancy, but also in their adult lives. By doing this, Flanagan really draws out his characters, and from the get-go, we are able to engage with the lives of each and every one of them. The performances given by the ensemble cast are undeniably one of the highlights of the entire show, which are merely enhanced by Flanagan’s tight script and direction. From episode 6 and onwards to the finale, all the strings are pulled together and the stakes are raised, with Flanagan bringing the siblings together to put an end to the misery Hill House put them through.

As for the horror, each episode has its own handful of so-called jump scares, which for the most part, work to great effect for they are executed rather well. In some occasions they do become somewhat predictable and repetitious, however, Flanagan’s use of cinematography and colour for such sequences is utterly superb and fitting, often sustaining a sickly and bleak visual colour pallet as well as his limited movement in terms of camera work. The moments of tension within the show are heightened by this as well as the prevalent use of silence. Fear is what dictates this show, and it and terror, rather than horror, is what Flanagan manipulates to elicit emotion within the viewer and build upon the characters’ psyches. As one character fittingly utters – ‘we either yield {to fear}, or we fight it’. Flanagan’s script is full of such controlled dialogue and the series showcases plenty of heartfelt and poignant moments.

Where it arguably falters, is in the pacing. The progression is slow and often brooding, and this is what makes it an essentially challenging watch. The key to appreciating this show is perseverance, something that relatively few viewers will have. It's not an easy-watch for sure; those who stick around will come to terms with its beauty and mode of storytelling, for it is far from your average ghost story. For those seeking scares galore, look elsewhere.