Somehow by way of Oceanic Flight 815 and a stop off at The Overlook Hotel, director and creator, Mike Flanagan has wound up at Hill House, constructing a heart-pounding, soul-shattering bit of horror in one stunning television series. Netflix’s new binge-if-you-dare show, The Haunting of Hill House is without question this year’s Stranger Things, only twice as terrifying, and perhaps worth even more recognition.
Adapted from the 1957 horror novel of the same name, the director of Oculus and the upcoming sequel to The Shining – Doctor Sleep (both harrowing tales of embracing horrors of the past) – has plucked some aspects from the page and woven them back together in a spine-tingling tapestry that spans decades. In episode 1, we meet the Crain family during their first visit to the titular terror dome only for their attendance to be cut short. One fateful evening, their father drives off into the night with kids in tow, the house abandoned, and their mother lost forever, for reasons that have yet to be revealed. Years later and the remnants of the Crain’s still split apart from their loss, are forced back together when the house claims another victim, pushing them to revisit their past and engage with an evil that has plagued them their entire lives.
Like a low-powered torch shining down a pitch black hallway, Flanagan shows flickers of the horror that has descended upon the Crain’s, with each episode focussing on an individual family member and how they are coping with past and present affairs. Much like Lost examined each survivor, the same can be said here, with each member of the Crain’s process of coping with what happened to help unravel the mystery. Where the show truly excels though is not just by showing each their fears, but also their grief. This tale is as much about loss as it is about the dark force that caused it, and seeing so many different responses to the event across an entire series rather than two hours solidifies the family dynamic, and the young and old cast it’s comprised of.
Both the child actors and their adult counterparts feel like a solid bunch of siblings that bounce off one another as every family does in moments of turmoil. Though there are some standout performances among the youngsters (McKenna Grace and Julian Hilliard notably as young Theo and Luke), the adult cast is without fault. Consisting of a few permanent deniers of what happened, the likes of Oliver Jackson-Cohen as present-day Luke, whose personal horror has led him to drug addiction to keep the demons at bay while conjuring his own, is commendable. Victoria Pedretti as Luke’s twin sister Nell (who’s episode ‘The Bent-Neck Lady’ is a heartbreaker), and Kate Siegel (Flanagan’s wife) as Theo all grown up are also standout efforts.
The top trifecta of the show though, are the heads of the Hill household. Carla Gugino gives her best performance since Gerald’s Game (her previous joint effort with Flanagan) as the mother descending into madness, Olivia Crain. Falling to pieces in front of her husband played by Henry Thomas and returning for fleeting visits to Timothy Hutton’s older version of the character, she shares chemistry and equally eerie presence alongside her husband(s) that once again amplifies this family’s descent into darkness.
There really can’t be enough said about a show that has tried where others have failed in the past and succeeded on every level. Just like Stranger Things, The Haunting of Hill House feels like a welcome homage to classic and spectacularly spooky horrors that get under your skin and freeze it every chance they get. It’s an incredible display of talent from everyone involved but more so its creator. Any of those concerned how Flanagan was going to handle Doctor Sleep can rest easy – and preferably with the light on.