A year before I watched Netflix’s The Haunting of Hill House, I read the book. I didn’t know they were even considering a mini series until I saw it pop up on Netflix. I wanted to read the book because I’d heard a lot about it from various authors and wanted to check out Shirley Jackson. But this isn’t a book review (I’ll write that soon).
The Haunting of Hill House miniseries starts out as any good haunted house story with the expected trauma of a haunted house. But then it morphs into a family drama. It moves out of the house and into the damaged Crain family, who lived in the house for less than a summer as children.
As with any haunted house, things start to go awry, walls close in, the adults question their sanity. There are definite creeps and chills that had me freaking out at times. But there were also slow parts. Several of the middle episodes focussed on the trauma the siblings have carried through their lives, and while those were captivating and a very big part of what made the series work, the episodes were also when expectations start to smudge.
Let me explain.
You come to The Haunting of Hill House expecting a haunted house (duh). Having read the book, perhaps I expected it even more. Then as it goes on, you’re treated to a family falling apart, a family dealing with tragedy, both in the past and the present, a family suffering from possible mental illness. So your expectations start to shift toward a family drama, with its expected blow-ups, hurt feelings, redemptions, and apologies. But in Hill House, all of this ultimately comes back to the house.
We also learn some of the house’s history: how it corrupted/killed those who have lived there. And of course there’s the genre-specific trope of whether or not this is really happening or if it’s all in the characters’ heads. In that way, we get back to the expectations of a haunted house story.
The Haunting of Hill House does this interesting balancing act of family-drama-cum-haunted-house. Seventy-five percent of the time it works. The other twenty-five percent it falls flat and leaves you wanting.
4 out of 5
Is it worth a watch? Yes. It’ll give you the creeps and you’ll come to really like the characters.
Best Paired With: A warm blanket and plenty of lights.
Interested in more on story structure and expectations? Check out my blog on Dan Harmon’s Story Circle.