Hello, and welcome back to the Bennington Horror Story…
As a fan of horror — and a fan of coincidences, when I found out that the bestseller turned TV Show The Haunting of Hill House was actually based on none other than Bennington’s very own Jennings, I had to see what it was all about—and it was terrifying, to say the least…
In the first part of this series, I will be exploring the Haunting of the Hill House through the TV show. Yes, I am aware it is better to always start with the book first, but I rarely do things the way you are supposed to.
TRIGGER WARNING: mentions of suicide, addiction, and gore
As anyone will tell you, it is a bad idea to start watching a psychological horror series at night, especially if you live alone. But, like with most of my bad ideas, I went ahead and did it anyway. As I curled up on my yoga mat sipping piping hot “sleepy time” tea (judge me, I dare you) in the complete darkness of my college dorm room, I pressed play on Netflix and entered the universe of Hill House.
Going into the Haunting of Hill House, I believed it would be yet another horror series filled with jump scares and little to no actual storyline, let alone character development. But I must admit, I was more than pleasantly surprised with this show; the storyline progresses in a fascinating way, and the characters are anything but two-dimensional with very distinct character arcs. Every episode builds on the last and there are no plot holes; the way the story progresses was perhaps my favourite part of the whole show. I suppose that the pure genius of Mike Flanagan will never cease to amaze me. Compared to his other work, such as Doctor Sleep and Gerarld’s Game, both TV adaptations of Stephen King’s writing, I must say this one takes the cake.
The story follows the Crain family through two different timelines, Hill House and post-Hill House, making it all the more personal as we get to see the terrified and haunted children become terrified and haunted adults. As the story progresses in both timelines, we watch the characters try to navigate the evil entity that is Hill House, not realizing that they will always belong to the House. Each character deals with the inescapable reality of Hill House in their own way, some by becoming one of its pawns, others by convincing themselves that they are escaping that same destiny.
The show deals with ghosts and the supernatural in a very realistic way. The paradox between the haunting of Hill House and the family’s own “hauntings” is so unbelievably well-thought-out that if you remove the horror you are left with a brilliant drama. Similarly, if you take away the drama you are left with one of the best horrors out there. Not only do we get a realistic portrayal of everyday tragedies and family dynamics, but we also get to experience the raw and unfiltered reality of mental illness and addiction within the characters. It was interesting to see a TV series (especially a horror one) approach suicide and actually do an excellent job of showing what it’s like to lose someone that way. Its portrayal of the complexity of being sad and angry and not knowing how or what to feel was comforting in that it felt familiar and realistic, unlike what we’ve seen in the media before. I appreciate the fact that Flanagan did not, at any point, glamorize or romanticize any of these very real issues for the sake of horror or for the sake of views. However, I will say that the show does actually portray these scenes which can, of course, be very triggering for some people.
In addition to this, I enjoyed the way the story was told. The jump cuts and flashbacks didn’t feel forced or out of place, every parallel coheres with what’s happening in the present time. Each of the Crain siblings gets an episode dedicated to them where we get to learn more about them and about their relationships to Hill House. I must admit that my favorite was Episode 5, titled “The Bent-Neck Lady,” where we find out the origin behind Nell’s most haunted memories and trauma. It proved that in more ways than one, we are often our own biggest nightmares.
The reason why I believe everyone should watch it, horror fan or not, is for the pure enjoyment of Flanagan’s storytelling. Additionally, the cast did an absolutely outstanding job with their performances and character portrayals. If nothing else, at least watch it for the brilliant camera work, which is perfectly embodied in Episode 7 where the cast and crew filmed a 17 minute long scene in one shot. And if that doesn’t appeal to you either, be sure to check out the next part of this series where I will review Shirley Jackson’s book of the same name.