The Crain family moves into Hill House for the summer with the intention of flipping it and selling it for cash, but soon the house becomes a haven for paranormal activity.
The Haunting of Hill House, a 10-part Netflix series directed by Mike Flanagan, is a modern reimagining of Shirley Jackson’s 1959 classic novel that focuses on a brood of five siblings and two parents who spend their summer vacation in a haunted mansion. The story follows the members of the Crain family through both present-day and flashbacks.
On the surface, Theodora and Eleanor aren’t particularly drawn to the prospect of spending a summer in a supposedly haunted house. Theodora is an artist and free spirit who loves adventure almost as much as she hates commitment and emotional connection. She’s been through eleven years of caretaking for her ill mother, which left her feeling more isolated than she ever thought possible.
But Eleanor, who’s a recent widow, is also feeling the need to get away from her life. She’s in mourning for her mother, and she’s not sure how to go about living on her own without the constant support of her family.
In order to survive, she must find some way to connect with others, so she and Theodora are invited by Montague (Oliver Jackson-Cohen) to spend the summer in Hill House with his brother Luke (Paxton Singleton). They’re both drawn to the house’s history of suicide, but as they start to make friends, they begin to realize that their new surroundings hold a lot of unsavory secrets.
They become frightened and suspicious of their home, which turns out to be more than just a spooky old house: it also has a deep and entrancing presence that draws them closer together. In a twist that’s as surprising as it is sad, they end up forming an uneasy bond that lasts far longer than they expected.
Throughout the course of the show, each member of the Crain family is forced to face her or his own traumas in a very real, incredibly affecting way. And while the effects of trauma are well-known in movies and novels ranging from The Shining to Nazareth Hill, they’re rarely depicted in such a visceral, disturbing way.
The Haunting of Hillhouse is a deeply moving drama that’s a perfect fit for Netflix. Its focus on the lingering effect of mental collapse is both beautiful and horrifying.
And the show’s use of serial storytelling is a brilliant example of how to effectively explore that subject, while also slowing down the pace to give the audience time to process the characters and the horror at hand. It’s a rare combination, one that works beautifully in this case, and it’s a feat that deserved to be celebrated.
The show does a great job of capturing the eerie, feral energy that permeates Hill House. But the show stray far from the terrors of the original novel, which saw its inhabitants feed off its supernatural powers in a way that wasn’t quite sane. While the series does a great job of exploring how grief affects our ability to reason, it doesn’t quite capture that same ominous, claustrophobic energy of the original. And the characters, while surprisingly likable, aren’t as compelling as they could be.