A couple of years back, a writer at the AV Club wrote an article talking about how film and television was experiencing a new golden age for horror. If we thought we had it good in 2016 & 2017, I don’t think its been a patch on the sheer breadth and variety of fantastic works we’ve had in the genre this year. Hereditary, A Quiet Place, Castle Rock, Annihilation, Mandy…the list goes on and each one different from the last.
The Haunting of Hill House is yet another outstanding horror series to be added to that list. Created by Mike Flanagan who is on some kind of roll at the moment having worked on Gerald’s Game, Oculus and Hush prior to this. It tells the story of the Crane family – Hugh, Olivia and their five kids – who move into Hill House in 1992. They intend to renovate the house and move on but get held up when they unearth some structural problems with the property.
During their stay, the Cranes are spooked by a series of unexplained phenomena and this culminates in a night when Hugh dramatically rounds up the kids and drives out of the place in the dead of night. Olivia didn’t make it. Over two decades later, the kids are now adults and each one bears a different psychological scar from their time at the Hill House. When a fresh family tragedy strikes, the Cranes are reunited and find themselves drawn back to Hill House.
The Haunting of Hill House is Flanagan’s best work to date. Even with his most derivative works like Hush, he showed a fine understanding of the fundamentals of what makes a great horror film, with a good sense of timing and building suspense. The Haunting of Hill House is a far more original concept which melds a family drama with psychological horror that makes you uncomfortable, gets under your skin and leaves you thinking about what you’ve seen in the middle of the night. Some of the episodes occasionally revert to using jump scares but by far the best episodes of Hill House are the ones where the flashbacks look at the types of things that can really spook you as a kid, like the death of a pet or getting trapped in a confined space.
Whats surprising about Hill House is how successful they are at blending the family drama with a horror story. I think structurally, using each episode to focus on a different member of the Crane family (jumping back and forth between ’92 and present day) was a good decision. The series feels like it is exactly the number of episodes it should be, no more, no less. Once the family comes together in the final two episodes, we have a great understanding of their motivations, their innermost fears and what drives them to do what they do. By the horror genre standards, these are some of the most well developed characters we’ve seen.
2018 has been a bumper year for the horror genre. When it comes to tv shows, nothing was better than The Haunting of Hill House.