“The Haunting of Hill House”: A Chilling Family Drama That Genuinely Terrifies

Henry Thomas and Violet McGraw in "The Haunting of Hill House"

The latest Netflix horror series, based on Shirley Jackson’s 1959 gothic novel of the same name, has raised the bar when it comes to TV horror. Unlike American Horror Story, which is great fun but full of messy plot lines, The Haunting of Hill House is a gripping, powerfully written show with a stunning script and wonderfully crafted characters.

The success of the show lies in the fact that if you take out the ghosts and the monsters, the show is not at a loss. By introducing the protagonists as children, the audience develops a strong sense of empathy for the characters from the start. We become deeply invested in the adult versions of the Crane family and the haunting is made more disturbing by the fact that we genuinely care what happens to them. Similarly, watching little Luke stuck in the elevator in the basement when a monster emerges becomes even more shocking because we know the effect that the trauma of Hill House has on him in the future.

In terms of the raw horror content, the series has achieved the perfect balance of the occasional jump scare and a perpetual feeling of the creeps. There are many scenes when there is a closeup of a character’s face looking horrified and as the camera turns, we know that we are going to see something scary. Nonetheless, what we see never fails to catch us by surprise, especially when it comes to Nell’s sleep paralysis.

Director Mike Flanagan pays remarkable attention to detail and the effect is chilling. There are several moments where the scene will carry out as normal but if you focus on the details in the background, you will notice shadowy figures and ghostly faces in the corner. As the character’s family and personal drama unfold, there is consequently a constant feeling of haunting looming over them. This is powerfully depicted in the case of Luke, who’s top-hatted demon has become intertwined with the powerful and ever-present influence of addiction.

The Haunting of Hill House is full of ghosts, monsters and everything else a horror series needs. If you take all that away, however, what you are left with is a chilling family drama and a sustained feeling of terror evoked by the harsh reality of the devastating effects trauma can have on a person.