The Netflix series of Shirley Jackson’s novel Hill House, directed by Mike Flanagan, is a remarkably compelling and engrossing horror film. Its 10 episodes, adapted from the book in the loosest sense possible, are stylish, moving, and sinister, riddled with ghosts both literal and metaphorical.
The Haunting of Hill House is a brutally resonate family drama set in the summer of 1992, when the Crain family, patriarch Hugh (Henry Thomas), his wife Olivia (Carla Gugino), and their five children move into Hill House with the intent of flipping it for profit. But the longer they stay, the more their lives become affected by the house’s ominous presence.
Among the Crains, author and paranormal-debunker Steven (Michiel Huisman), mortician Shirley (Elizabeth Reaser; Lulu Wilson), psychic Theodora (Kate Siegel; McKenna Grace), and twin siblings Nell and Luke (Violet McGraw and Julian Hilliard) are most susceptible to Hill House’s effects. They all have their own encounters with the supernatural, including a hand that doesn’t seem to be human clutching Theo’s wrist one night; a bottle that oozes red liquid that makes people turn blue and a room that shouldn’t exist.
But the most frightening thing about Hill House isn’t the haunts themselves. It’s the fact that it’s an insane place, a prism that magnifies whatever people are going through.
In a conversation with Vulture, Mike Flanagan said that Hill House is “inherently insane,” and while he didn’t give a specific example of how it works, it’s clear that it doesn’t work in a way that can be rationalized or understood. It’s impossible to tell what’s caused by the fact that Hill House is evil and what’s caused by the fact that people who are insane live in it.
For a show that defies all logic, the Netflix adaptation does a surprisingly good job of bringing out the emotional underpinnings of Hill House’s ominous presence. The characters’ relationships are often complicated, and they often grapple with feelings of loss and anxiety.
While the Netflix version of Hill House is a far cry from Jackson’s novel, there are several eerie references to her work in it. For instance, when Hugh Crain gives his daughter Eleanor a watch with the phrase “Journeys end in lovers meeting,” it’s a nod to one of the most memorable moments from the book.
Theo’s experience with a hand that doesn’t seem to belong to him echoes Eleanor’s own moment when she catches sight of a ghost in the dark. And while Theo’s brother, Luke, is a drug addict, it’s also true that his anger at Hill House is similar to what the rest of his family felt as they were growing up.
While it may not be the most awe-inspiring story I’ve ever heard, Hill House is a compelling and surprisingly cathartic horror series that uses a dual timeline to explore trauma in its purest form. It’s the kind of scare that leaves you questioning your sanity, but also your ability to hold on to your faith in humanity. hill house condo