by The Collected Mutineer
I‘m not usually one for scary movies or tv shows. In fact, I tend to go out of my way to avoid them—yes, I am that person who covers their eyes when horror trailers play in the theater. My idea of “scary” is much different than most people’s, but what I do make an exception for (and even enjoy) is a good piece of gothic fiction. As I pointed out in my review of Crimson Peak a few years ago, gothic stories aren’t “ghost stories,” but stories that happen to have ghosts in them. And that’s exactly what we’re dealing with when it comes to Netflix’s The Haunting of Hill House.
At first glance, Hill House is the biggest ghost story of them all. In fact, the original 1959 novel by Shirley Jackson has been lauded as perhaps the best American haunted house story in print. Even Stephen King loves it. But the beauty of Hill House lies not in its jumps or goosebumps (and it does have a fair share of those). What makes the new adaptation work so well is the solid story construction, the fascination that all viewers will inevitably feel for the strange and mysterious mansion, and the deeper terrifying psychological implications that arise.
The modernized plot centers around two timelines in the lives of the Crain family. In the flashbacks, Hugh Crain has purchased an old mansion in the hopes of renovating and flipping it. His wife and five children begin to experience supernatural phenomena in the house—seeing ghosts, hearing noises, etc. Each person becomes curious about how to open a red door in the center of the house; though Hugh has been given a master key, nothing seems capable of opening it. In the present timeline, we realize that Hugh’s wife Olivia died in the house and that the now-adult children are all dealing with residual grief and personal hauntings in their own unique ways.
I don’t want to give too much away, as the plot has a few important twists and turns. But I believe that author Joe Hill’s analysis of the book also rings true for the new series. “[Jackson knew that] houses aren’t haunted – people are,” he said. “All the most terrible spectres are already there inside your head… In the story, the house toys with the minds of our heroes just like the cat with the mouse: with a fascinated, joyful cruelty. Nothing is more terrifying than being betrayed by your own senses and psyche.” Stories like Hill House help keep alive the legacy of The Castle of Otranto and countless other gothic works—stories that make us wonder what is real and what is imagined, that force us to face our inner demons, and that, more often than not, make us double check behind the shower curtain just in case…
I could continue to wax eloquently about this amazing series, but I encourage you to watch it for yourself. Give it a go if:
- you’re on the lookout for spooky Halloween content
- you enjoy gothic literature
- you want to see some different and interesting cinematography