The story in 'The Haunting of Hill House' succeeds on the raw strength of its characters and the depth of their complex family drama revolving around an unforgettable ghost story. It focuses as much on the family dilemma as it does on the horror. And that's exactly why it's so good.
Instead of purely relying on jump scares, it adds depth to a genre known for its flat, hollow characters, that are only on screen long enough to be murdered. This may turn some people off, as they'll be expecting something a bit more "traditional" in terms of horror. But rest assured, this story is still creepy enough to make you sleep with the lights on.
The actors nail their characters and make this an enthralling, highly-entertaining fright-fest. And even though it might be a bit light on the frights at times, this show almost reinvents the idea of horror by presenting the creatures that go bump in the night as something closer, many of which you won't see coming.
Director and writer, Mike Flanagan has sneakily hidden enough ghastly images in the frames to frighten even the most seasoned horror veteran, although the average viewer might miss most of these. While the scare-factor may not always be nearing max, don't let this deter you from taking notice of the sinister details lurking in scenes that otherwise appear benign.
Flanagan has managed to brilliantly hide easter eggs throughout the entirety of the season in the most unexpected places. A face reflected in a window, or hands reaching out from under a bed. He cranks up the atmosphere by catering to the most observant ghost hunters viewing this deliciously eerie show.
The first half of the season follows each one of the five siblings, a full episode devoted to developing every character. They are each well into their adult lives and are individually dealing with emotional trauma from their last painful night at Hill House. When a series of events triggers the family to face their demons together yet again, the story unfolds seamlessly.
The show cleverly weaves back and forth through time, showing us our main protagonists as children living at Hill House, so as to keep the audience guessing up until the end. As the show bounces around from past to present, each piece of new information just makes the grander puzzle ever more intriguing. Some viewers may find themselves more engrossed by the mystery than the horror. But that's not to say that this show doesn't succeed in the horror department.
The parts that are scary are exceptionally well done, but sometimes they can be few and far between as screen time is spent developing these characters. The increased exposition does strengthen the narrative, but it comes at the expense of more scares. Nonetheless, this is still a great show.
The second half of the season follows a slightly different set-up than the first, as an unforeseen event brings all the siblings together, eliciting a profusion of deep seeded resentment, which plays out wonderfully on screen. Kudos to the creators for being able to hold this whole thing together cohesively without it coming off the rails and ceasing to be compelling. As the second half of the season delves deeper into the siblings personal and shared trauma, it also twists and turns, keeping you on your toes right when you thought things might be slowing down. The steady pacing and assured direction throughout the duration of the season will have you glued to the screen, right up until the end.
This show is a gift to a genre that is all too often riddled with needless blood splatter and clichés. The Haunting of Hill House is a fantastically binge-worthy show. Not a single episode ends on a dull note. Which is more than can be said for the overabundance of recent Netflix additions that are an absolute slog to get through.
The main actors are believable, and the story is tautly written, with clear direction and plenty of "boos" sprinkled throughout. And in the interest of keeping the season's mystery alive, this review has been kept as spoiler-free as possible. The Haunting of Hill House is a fine addition to Netflix's ever-growing catalog of original content and a perfectly chilling way to spend a few hours this Halloween season.
8.5 out of 10
This article was co-written by Paulo Torres.