Steven Sees A Ghost
The Twin Thing
The Bent-Neck Lady
Silence Lay Steadily
Horror’s recent transitional move from the big screen to an episodic series format has been, for the most part, incredibly resurgent for the genre. From the tired, teen jump-scare slashers to the generic monster movies packed full of gore and forgettable characters, big blockbusters have lost their true ability to produce some genuine scares and memorable horrors. On the other hand, the more generous run time for TV gives much more time to flesh out characters and set up the horror but is always in danger of losing its effectiveness by feeling dragged out too long. Step forward The Haunting Of Hill House which manages to produce a stunning 10 hour slice of horror and a new benchmark for horror television that will go down as one of the best shows to come from the streaming platform in recent memory.
Based on the novel of the same name, The Haunting Of Hill House revolves around the Crain family who move into Hill House, a mansion rumoured to be haunted, with the intent on fixing up the dilapidated property and selling it on. Once there, Steven (Michiel Huisman), Olivia (Carla Gugino) and their five children soon realize that things are not what they seem and from the first night onward, they’re haunted by supernatural occurrences. The real crux of the story lies with its methodically paced mystery, presented to us early on when Steven scoops up his kids in the middle of the night and drives away from Hill House in a panic-stricken state while Olivia is still somewhere in the house.
The rest of the series takes on a unique identity from here, presenting us two parallel storylines that swing back and forth between “Then” and “Now”, conveniently presented to us through block lettering in these early scenes. These work twofold; setting up the characters for the events that transpire and filling in the details on what happened inside the house. With seven main characters and two separate time lines, it was always going to be difficult to juggle everyone without feeling over encumbered but with each episode focusing on a different character and their childhood juxtaposed with their current circumstances, there’s a continuous feeling of the time line progressing in a meaningful way. All of this builds toward a climactic ending that finally reveals what happened inside Hill House to the family.
While there are scarier films and, to an extent TV shows, out there, Haunting Of Hill House makes up for this with an uncomfortable level of tension and suspense that clings to every scene. All of this would be for nothing but for the impressive building of each character which really helps set the show apart. From Luke’s heroin addiction to Theo’s strange premonitions through touching people or objects, we genuinely care about each of these characters and by the time episode 6, Two Storms, rolls around, all this character building is presented to us through a masterful execution of narrative and character-driven drama.
All of this is helped by a real understanding of colour and lighting that remains a consistent ominous presence throughout. Pale yellows and cold blues clash and contrast in every scene helping to really sell the unsettling nature of the show. The striking use of solitary flashlights down long hallways combined with long, exhausting shots void of music or dialogue really help with this mood too and as the series progresses, the horror actually intensifies as we get to know each of the characters on a deeper level.
Haunting Of Hill Houee is simply one of the best horrors ever made for the small screen. Its masterful execution of character and story work harmoniously together, rewarding us with some impressively shot scenes and some suffocatingly tense horror. While there are scarier works out there, Haunting Of Hill House deserves major props for not only crafting an engrossing, suspenseful show but also managing to sustain the same level of intensity throughout its 10 hour run time. When it comes to raising the bar, this Netflix Original is a new golden standard set for horror and one that’s going to be very difficult to beat going forward. While it may not be the best show ever written, it’s certainly one of the best horrors and fully deserves critical acclaim for what it’s achieved here.