As the Halloween season swings into full effect, horror fans turn to the silver screen for thrills and chills during the spooky season. Names like Wes Craven, Guillermo del Toro, John Carpenter, and James Wan pop up often, and their horror films are beloved by fans of the genre, and film lovers as a whole.
However, one name is often overlooked in its regards to the impact this particular filmmaker has had on the genre as a whole. Ever since his bursting onto the scene with 2011’s “Absentia,” director Mike Flanagan has been quietly crafting horror hits every few years like “Oculus,” “Hush,” and “Gerald’s Game,” and has crafted a distinct style and voice, due to him personally writing, editing, and directing every project.
However, it was when he took on an adaptation of the classic novel “The Haunting of Hill House” by Shirley Jackson, which had already been adapted successfully several times, that saw Flanagan taking on his biggest and most ambitious project yet.
A 10-episode series, Flanagan’s adaptation of the same name took several liberties with the source material, telling the story of the Crain family in two separate timelines: one during their time living in Hill House, and the other 26 years later. In later timeline they find themselves haunted by the house and the trauma of their family's past after the night of their mother’s death during one horrifying and mysterious night.
A relatively familiar and simple plot, however, is simply a mask for some of the most impressive filmmaking achievements ever seen in horror media, and the cast performances and heartbreaking theme and elements elevate “The Haunting of Hill House” to the status of the single greatest horror experience I’ve ever felt.
To start, the storyline pulling from two different timelines flows smoothly, as each main character gets their own feature episode to explore their psyche, during their time in the house, up until that one fatal night, and follows them 26 years later as they suffer from the fallout.
Themes like love, lust, addiction, grief, denial and most important family are explored during the roughly 10-hour run time of the season. The Crain family is pushed to the brink, as their relationships are broken down, built back up, and strengthened as the season goes on. The horrifying events that occurred at Hill House 26 years ago left their imprint on the Crain family, and the show beautifully explores the trauma and fear felt by every member of the family, though it is in many different ways.
The cast shines. Every child actor brought a performance with a sense of maturity that belongs to actors three times their age. The adults capture the same sense of fear their child counterparts portray, and display the trauma and stress of the memories of the past in different, yet equally impressive ways.
Kate Siegel as Theo is a particular standout, displaying a quiet, yet powerful, sense of underlying fury at her family for the events of the past, and her ability to sense other’s thoughts and emotions after making hand contact with them provided some of the most white-knuckled and emotional moments in the season.
While the story, script and cast are all excellent, where “The Haunting of Hill House” really shines is in its filmmaking methods and approach to visual storytelling. Flanagan’s direction is so sure-handed and every frame is bleeding with horrifying imagery that begs to be rewatched, studied and analyzed. Jump scares come few and far between; the real fear comes from a sense of dread and heart-sinking sadness that builds and builds until its incredibly explosive and emotional climax that left me sobbing on my couch.
It is impossible to not mention the standout episode, “Two Storms,” in which the camera moves around, seemingly in one shot, through two different timelines and multiple different locations. The camera weaves between characters, sets, and timelines in, what seems like at least one smooth movement, in a truly jaw-dropping display of cinematic mastery. This single episode is worth watching the entire show, and stands out to me as the single greatest achievement in horror filmmaking of all time.
“The Haunting of Hill House” is a traditional horror show yes, but it is also so much more than that. It is the display of a horror director at the height of his creative expression, a heart-wrenching tale of loss, fear and dread, and a truly entertaining, if terrifying, experience. Ever since my first watch, this show has built a permanent home in both my mind and my heart, and the dread and horror of Hill House will be there to stay for years to come.