Why yes, I have waited until after Thanksgiving to finally, finally get to my review of Netflix’s original horror series, The Haunting of Hill House, which had been released in time for Halloween. However, I noticed that many people have referred to it as something else. Some people said The Haunting of Hill House was a “family drama with a horror twist” and others called it a “psychological thriller.”
I have to agree with the first comment. I had heard, before actually beginning the series, that it was a sick horror show with so many scary moments as to make people unable to sleep at night out of fear of the “bent-neck lady.” I went in thinking, “I’m far from a horror buff. I hate horror movies–they make my imagination go wild at night–so what the heck am I doing right now?” and came out of it thinking, “Look. This was not scary enough for me. This was terribly underwhelming, and I get easily bored with family drama.”
So. Yeah. I have to say this was a disappointment, one of those (very often) cases (for me) in which I was underwhelmed and found the show overhyped.
This isn’t to say the show was badly produced. Actually, I thought one of the strong points of the show was that it was very well made when it came to the quality of the production. You can’t help but be drawn into the intricate set, the dark coloring of the shots, the framing, and all of that. They helped to up the tension and mystery of the story. That was done beautifully.
Another strong advantage to The Haunting of Hill House was the acting. I thought everybody was well cast in their role…except for Luke’s actor Oliver Jackson-Cohen, who just stuck out like a sore thumb to me. I don’t know why but he just did not seem to fit into the dynamic of the family, look- or vibe-wise. Still, he was as fabulous an actor as everybody else, and apparently provided the eye candy to satisfy viewers. My favorites were Carla Gugino, who plays mother Olivia Crain, and Kate Siegel, who plays middle child Theo. They actually strongly resemble each other (when Kate’s not looking like Angelina Jolie), and emoted the best. A great honorary mention is Victoria Pedtretti, who plays youngest Nell, but really, they were all wonderful. There was no weak link here.
However, apart from those two points, I found The Haunting of Hill Housemediocre. The story was not compelling. I did not think it was necessary to have an episode per Crain offspring, and everything could have been condensed into a movie to keep me riveted the whole time. There were many superfluous scenes that truly turned this into more of a drawn out family drama than anything, and not a particularly unique one at that.
The supernatural aspect of the show was the only thing to offer a unique angle to, honestly, a very typical family drama with the typical key players. The control freak. The rebel. The drug addict. The ignorant father figure. The drug addict in particular drew me out of the story whenever he appeared because the character seemed so archetypal for a drama genre. Oddly, what I’m saying is he was so commonplace that he seemed the most out of place in The Haunting of Hill House. His story has been done so often in other movies and shows that I kept feeling like I was watching something else when his struggles were represented–but I did appreciate how they linked his need for escaping and coping with the trauma from his past with ghosts and death.
Another issue with the story that I found very anticlimactic was the “big revelation” at the end, which (people have already pointed out) was that the “stomach” of the haunted house was basically the Room of Requirements from Harry Potter. This second point is something no one has pointed out yet: the way the ghosts are trapped within the house (which we get no real explanation for) really reminded me of Tower of Terror, which I think is an underrated Halloween movie starring a young Kirsten Dunst. People may disagree with me here but I actually think The Tower of Terror, which is based off an amusement ride, did it better. And by “it,” I mean the whole “these ghosts are trapped here and you don’t know who or what to trust” thing. The Haunting of Hill House was much more fanfare, effects, and relying on the actors than actual story with resolution.
We are left with so many questions… Like why did the mother go crazy, exactly? Is it really okay for her to be left like that even as a ghost? It seems like super belated postpartum depression at the suggestions of Mrs-Ghost-in-a-Flapper-Dress, whom I could barely understand. There are undercurrents of mental health issues at play here, but nothing quite fleshed out, leaving me to point out that unlikable eldest son Steven was actually not wrong in suggesting that mental health was a big problem at play. The house, I believe, became haunted because the married Hill couple met each other at an asylum, right? And the husband went on a killing spree, apparently cursing the house and trapping the spirits of his victims within? And his wife apparently had postpartum depression, which she imparts onto Olivia Crain? So in a roundabout way, Steven was technically correct but his concerns about mental health are thrown out and ignored by both his family members and the show in preference for the supernatural explains everything!
They also threw in the supernatural “sensitivity” thing some of the children (and their mother) have as a poorly used plot device. It is supposed to make the family more susceptible to the spirits, except the Dudleys were also vulnerable just for being in the house at night, right? So was any of that really necessary? The hand gift of Theo’s was interesting, for sure, but I honestly think all of that could have been thrown out the window. The ending I also did not like or understand, as in the intentions and actions of the characters)… Why leave the spirits around rather than laid to rest? Just so they can continue to be together for all eternity? That whole area was somewhat weak to me. Perhaps the lack of resolution and closure sets up the well-received series for a second season, though.
Overall, The Haunting of Hill House was average. I barely noticed any of the ghosts people kept saying they saw everywhere. Everything related to time and space was unnecessarily confusing (like Dunkirk, which I also watched recently–Chris Nolan usually does this beautifully but it felt unnecessary in his war film). There was no real resolution. The explanations, or I suppose “revelations,” were cliche and anticlimactic. Pacing was draggy. However, the acting, chemistry, and production were really great.