Ten Hours Of Terror With A Satisfying Payoff
A solid film’s worth of unsettling moods and eye-popping jump scares lurks in Netflix’s The Haunting of Hill House, a new series loosely inspired by the classic Shirley Jackson novel. In this version–a complete remodel–the Crain family spends a memorable summer trying to rehab and flip a malevolent Gothic mansion. But a setup like that makes for a tight ninety minutes. How, then, to account for the ten-hour binge watch that Netflix requires?
The answer demonstrates that life after a haunted house is every bit as terrifying as the moments spent inside it. The Haunting of Hill House is a master class in story editing. It flashes back and forth in the lives of the five Crain children. Here they’re young and innocent, blind to the horrors that await them. Now they’re all grown up, walking head-cases united only in hating their distant father. Their afflictions run the gamut–junkie, control freak, germophobe, skeptic, neurotic– but they all seem to have their roots in that house where a bunch of spoilers happened.
But seriously, about those spoilers. If you have any interest at all in The Haunting of Hill House, do your best to remain innocent. Series creator Mike Flanagan, a low-budget horror auteur of some repute, has turned a straightforward haunted-house yarn into a pulsing, living puzzle box, cycling episodically through the principals’ perspectives and giving every character a real life’s worth of trauma.
That trauma gives the series the tension it needs to sustain. Or overwhelm, if you have a low tolerance for talky emotional-torture porn. Through all that misery the story gets doled out in miserly bits and cloaked in misdirections. Yet it somehow hangs together, one heartbreaking revelation after nerve-rattling shock after another.
The Haunting of Hill House requires a certain amount of faith from the audience. It rewards that faith with an unending stream of mystifications and surprises, all leading to a satisfying conclusion. It’s ten hours of your life you’ll never get back, but you’re spending those ten hours in the best worst possible place.