‘The Haunting of Hill House’ is the Horror Netflix Needed
After receiving praise by Stephen King, the master of the macabre, the Mike Flanagan adaptation of the novel gives horror fans the scares they deserve.
No one has been able to replicate the effects of a haunted house since Shirley Jackson. Many have tried and many have failed. Jackson was the writer of the original gothic novel, The Haunting of Hill House, and since then, has been the inspiration for countless horror junkies. She was one of first to not only emphasize the fear of living in a haunted house, but reveal the emotional distress that this fear can do to someone’s psyche. The psychological horror isn’t in the ghosts, but in the thoughts that torment the living.
In the novel, four characters visit Hill House to explore the legitimacy behind its supernatural reputation. They seclude themselves in the house, and begin to feel the effects of the hauntings. One character in particular, Eleanor, suffers more than the others as she experiences more traumatic visualizations. Her visions are oblivious to the others; “It’s not real,” they would say. By the end of the novel, a frantic and terrified Eleanor attempts to run away, but her fate remains ambiguous. It’s never truly revealed if the monsters that followed her were real or just figments of her imagination.
Is Hill House Truly Haunted or Only for the Psychotic?
It’s seems like every horror movie has to incorporate a deteriorated house (i.e. Paranormal Activity and The Conjuring. Sinister). What’s a better home for ghosts than a ghost of a home?
What sets The Haunting of Hill House apart is its capacity to incorporate not only the killing of the body, but of the spirit. Many films utilize death as catalyst for fear. Characters quickly fall into unfortunate situations to reinforce the tropes of stupidity, awkward, and clueless. The horror genre has used these moments so often, that viewers don’t even sympathize for the characters. Why should we care for the teenager who hears a scary sound behind a door and then stupidly goes to open it? We shouldn’t.
Taking from Jackson’s perspective on mental illness and disbelief, Flanagan created a series that explores intelligent characters with different issues. Each of these point-of-views grants the characters a new way of experiencing fear. The Netflix show goes back to the childhoods of each character, while they lived in Hill House to show why they are who they are in the present and how the ghost will attack them personally.
Flanagan pays homage to Jackson’s work by keeping the names of some characters reminiscent to the novel. In the first rendition, Eleanor has telekinetic powers, but in this psychological horror, Theo is telepathic. Luke and Nellie are both taunted by the house and their minds, which is similar to Eleanor. Flanagan then even puts Shirley Jackson in the show as Luke, a writer of a horror anthology series, and Shirley, the oldest sister who disagrees with Luke’s idea to write from their experiences (an internal conflict that the novel’s author might have had perhaps?).
“The Haunting of Hill House, revised and remodeled by Mike Flanagan. I don’t usually care for this kind of revisionism, but this is great. Close to a work of genius, really. I think Shirley Jackson would approve, but who knows for sure.” – Stephen King
Masterfully paced, The Haunting of Hill House plunges these five siblings into a sequence of misfortune. Each suffer from different hauntings whilst living in Hill House, but without an authoritative witness, their parents dismiss their claims. Then, the mother commits suicide, and confusion and fright strikes. The kid’s questions are not answered for their father refuses to acknowledge the supernatural instances of the event. This ignorance grows into frustration that drives each of the siblings apart… until Nellie, the youngest and most innocent, also kills herself.
The most impressive feat of the show is that it does not rely on jump scares to keep the adrenaline flowing. Instead, it’s the slow and dragged out camera movements, the distraught characters, and its slow release of clues that demystify the haunted house that give it its edge. This is the true nature and satisfaction of the horror genre. Films and shows are frightening because of the realistic ways that characters react to alarming situations—not because of a super computer-animated creature.
The Haunting of Hill House works because it combines the real world with the supernatural one, bringing us closer to the realization that maybe all of the scary stories are real.
Perhaps…we live in one.