The Big Review: The Haunting of Hill House

‘Most times, a ghost is a wish…’

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Reviewing TV shows is not something I do very often. As I force an annual round up of the years best television on everyone, I often save my TV writing for that. Special cases will tempt me out of my cave however. Game of Thrones, Black Mirror, Inside No 9. The really special shows. I didn’t intend to review The Haunting of Hill House, despite my love of both the book and of director Mike Flanagan, but by the end I was so emotionally invested that something had to be done. Instead of weeping uncontrollably in a dark room I thought that I may as well write something instead. So here we are.

Shirley Jackson’s book is the story of a house. Hill House. Not sane. Standing by itself against its hills. Holding darkness within. It is a masterpiece of Gothic horror. Quite simply one of the most eerily effective horror novels ever written. Mike Flanagan’s TV adaptation is not about a house. It is about a family.

The Crane family is made up of parents Hugh and Liv and four children. Eldest Shirley Crane sees herself as the most well adjusted of the children despite running a mortuary.Steven Crane, the second eldest and most cynical of the bunch, is dismissive of his time at Hill House and has cashed in on the notoriety it brought him.  Theo is his reckless younger sister who lives to help children and has a strange intuition. Finally, twins Luke and Nell are the youngest of the clan and the most damaged by the unspeakable events that marred their childhood amid life at Hill House.

Director Mike Flanagan tells two stories concurrently throughout ten episodes. We are drip fed snippets of the Crane family’s downfall at Hill House against the backdrop of their modern day reunion. Flanagan has already proven that he is adept at providing scares that go beyond the mere superficial to embed themselves under the skin and behind the eyes. However, with The Haunting of Hill House he shows that he can provide a world that is lived in, a family conflict that seems real. More than anything, Flanagan captures the feeling of a waking nightmare. The line where the unreal and the real flirt outrageously before crashing together in an awesome wave.

Netflix’s The Haunting of Hill House is nothing like the book. Apart from with their respective treatment of Hill House. The house is exactly described as it is in the book. As the camera slowly pans around the interior time and time again it was impossible to ignore the ghosts hiding in the corners and the shivers cascading down my spine like a waterfall of blood. Both in the book, and the TV show, the house is clearly insane.

While this adaptation undoubtedly strays from the novel, there is no doubting that it does capture the essence of what made Shirley Jackson’s book so wonderful. The paranoia, the madness, the cold hand closing around your neck… All of this was captured perfectly, but by attaching the Crane family, Mike Flanagan added something that was never really present in the book. A beautiful, beating heart.

Family is everything.

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