As a kid, like most of my friends, I spent time fantasizing about being able to teleport, or turn invisible, or just generally be Wolverine. Yet, more often, I imagined being able to freeze time . [[Like on Out of This World, an 80s sitcom of which the only thing I remember is that the lead girl could freeze time.]]
Those thoughts of time freezing bliss still come to me as an adult — fairly regularly, as a matter of fact — and a huge part of that fantasy is the fact that I’d have unlimited time to learn about, watch/rewatch, and read/reread everything out there that interests me. I always want to watch and read all the things. Not some of the things, or most of the things, ALL THE THINGS!! Or at least, all the things that seem to be good things.
Sadly, the superpower to stop time still eludes me, so I’m always behind on a countless number of movies, shows, and books I want to get to watching/reading. For real, it’s literally a countless number (aka, my living nightmare).
All that to say, it always feels good when I finally get around to something that’s been on my radar. Thus, recently checking The Haunting of Hill House off my unending media list would have been satisfying for that reason alone. It’s been toward the top of said list since the show debuted on Netflix, and urgency intensified as multiple friends have raved about it and told me I need to get watch sooner rather than later.
Well, at long last I’ve seen it, and boy howdy is it good! (No, I don’t know why I use strange colloquialisms on this blog that I would never use in real life, but I’m not going to stop.)
For real though, I loved this show!
I had been a little hesitant once I learned it would only be very loosely based on the source material. I love the Shirley Jackson novel (which is a wildly underrated and under-read book, by a wildly underrated and under-read author — you probably know her as the author of “The Lottery,” the chilling short story many of us had to read in school), as well as the 1963 film adaptation, The Haunting (which is a wildly underrated and under-seen horror classic).
Using the source material as a jumping off point while taking off in a new direction could be an inspired creative choice. More often, it’s a disaster. Too many producers and writers ignore everything that makes the source material great, instead using said material to lazily grasp at a pre-existing intellectual property for the sole purpose of name recognition.
This show is definitely an example of the former. It feels like creator/writer/director Mike Flanagan really cherished the novel, and the way he made allusions and homages to the original felt genuine, and not like lip service. They made sense, and revealed an understanding of what was referenced.
Flanagan’s themes were very different from Jackson’s, but still thoughtful and resonant. I loved the story he told just as much as the original, if not more. I know, I know, suggesting I may like it more than the remarkable original novel is blasphemous, but I’m just being honest. Honestly blasphemous. (Maybe put that on my tombstone? Maybe a memoir title? Either way, it’s definitely an accurate description. Anyway, back to the show.)
The Haunting of Hill House is eerie, and the kind of scary that gets in your head. I’m not sure I was ever terrified watching the show, but the tone was tense and creepy, and the creepiness lingered. Let’s just say that after bingeing the show while Emily was out of town, I had more lights on than I normally would while getting ready for bed.
I think that lingering fear is due to how effectively Flanagan and company created the atmosphere of Hill House. The creepiness felt expansive and all-encompassing. It genuinely seemed like something ghastly may be around every corner, and I found myself constantly scanning the screen for some horror lurking in the background. Turns out, part of the reason for this unease was that at least 43 ghosts are hidden in scenes at Hill House throughout the show. 43!!! There were also some narratively earned jump scares that got me good.
More than that, as is the case in so many horror films I love, the genre was a vehicle for a meaningful story. The scares were fun, but the framework of a ghost story is used to tell a bigger story about the things that really haunt us, and how those things define and enslave us if we try to pretend they aren’t there.
So many of the show’s themes resonated deeply with me. Family, grief, love, mental illness, shame, and forgiveness just to name a few. As well as how to live well and still be open, vulnerable, brave and kind in a dangerous, often cruel world full of real life monsters.
There were more themes I really loved, but mentioning them would be venturing into spoiler territory. We can save that for irl conversations, or texts, or whatever. Similarly, I could also list some storytelling devices I really enjoyed, but again, it would potentially spoil stuff by getting your head going in a direction that might help you figure shit out earlier than you may want. Ask me all about it if you want to talk about it.
One thing I will say, which doesn’t spoil anything, is that episode six is an absolutely remarkable bit of visual storytelling. Hugely impressive technical filmmaking from everyone involved, including amazing work by the actors. However, most importantly, it was in service to the story, not at the expense of it. For real, friends, the episode is so fucking good. The degree of difficulty was so high and they crushed it. It’s even more impressive that they pulled it off while filming with five child actors who also crushed it.
Anyway, I guess that’s all I can write about this show without spoilers, so I’ll save the rest of my thoughts for outside the blog. Or for a future post where I throw caution to the wind and spoil the fuck out of everything (with warnings of course). We’ll see if I make it far enough to get back into that style of writing again.