The Haunt­ing of Hill House, the scari­est TV show ever

Net­flix’s new hor­ror se­ries.

Vocable (All English) - - Édito | Sommaire - ED POWER

With much fan­fare, The Haunt­ing of Hill House was added to the Net­flix cat­a­logue last Oc­to­ber. The hor­ror se­ries by Mike Flana­gan, adapted from the epony­mous novel by Shirley Jack­son, fea­tures five sib­lings who grew up in a haunted house and con­front their trau­matic child­hood mem­o­ries as adults. The mas­ter of hor­ror, Stephen King, was quick to sing the praises of this se­ries.

It has given goose­bumps to Stephen King and re­port­edly scared some view­ers to the point of nau­sea. But what is it about Net­flix’s new adap­ta­tion of Shirley Jack­son’s clas­sic novel TheHauntin­gof Hill House that has made it one of the most ef­fec­tive fright­en­ers of the sea­son?

2. Af­ter all, the 10-part se­ries, which ar­rived on the stream­ing ser­vice on 12 Oc­to­ber, has shack­led it­self to one of the hoari­est tropes in hor­ror. A fam­ily moves into a haunted house, where things bump and gib­ber in the night. All the way back to Wilkie Collins and Al­ger­non Black­wood, this is one of the genre’s most time-worn set-ups. How could a mere TV show breathe new life into a grab-bag of clichés?

3. Quite eas­ily, it turns out. The ge­nius of the new The Haunt­ing of Hill House, writ­ten and di­rected by Ouija: Ori­gin of Evil’s Mike Flana­gan, is to draw a line be­tween su­per­nat­u­ral ter­ror and the un­re­solved trau­mas of child­hood – the clos­est the ma­jor­ity of us will come in real life to be­ing spooked by our pasts. Per­haps that is why King recog­nised it as a piece e of true orig­i­nal­ity and dar­ing. “I I don’t usu­ally care for this kind of f re­vi­sion­ism, but this is great,” he e tweeted. “Close to a work of ge­nius, re­ally. I think Shirley Jack­son would ap­prove, but who knows for sure.”


4. As with King’s dev­as­tat­ing pu­berty al­le­gory Car­rie, The Haunt­ing of Hill House turns the pa pain of grow­ing up into a lit­eral sp spir­i­tual agony. Flana­gan flashes ba back and forth be­tween the prese sent-day adult­hood of the dys­func­tio tional Crain sib­lings and their gh ghastly mem­o­ries of the early Nineties when their par­ents moved them into a fixer-up­per man­sion, which turned out to be pos­sessed by a malev­o­lent spirit.

5. Flana­gan digs deep and un­earths some gen­uinely dis­turb­ing im­agery. Yet while the show is stuffed with hor­rific sights and sounds – a dead mother try­ing to drag her adult son into

an open grave; a fly­ing man with no face; a zom­bie in the base­ment – the real disquiet lies in watch­ing these in­no­cent, wide-eyed chil­dren grow into dam­aged adults.

6. Adorable Luke (Oliver Jack­son-Co­hen) be­comes a pa­thetic drug ad­dict; sen­si­ble old­est sib­ling Shirley (El­iz­a­beth Reaser) is re­vealed to be a less-than-per­fect mother and wife; book­ish Steven (Michiel Huis­man) ex­ploits the fam­ily’s col­lec­tive PTSD to kick­start his writ­ing ca­reer. Not many of us came of age in a haunted manor. Yet many can re­late to wak­ing up one day and feel­ing we barely know the flawed in­di­vid­u­als our sib­lings have turned out to be. These psy­cho­log­i­cal el­e­ments are per­fectly coun­ter­pointed by an old-fash­ioned haunted house yarn, as thrillingly tra­di­tion­al­ist as Jack­son’s book and the gothic tra­di­tions it tapped.


7. What’s es­pe­cially im­pres­sive is how Flana­gan has re­shaped the con­tours of hor­ror for tele­vi­sion – his­tor­i­cally a medium where scar­ing the trousers off the punter has been a big ask. The rea­son hor­ror has never re­ally worked on the small screen is that TV can­not fol­low the age-old tem­pos of hor­ror movies. Vi­o­lence is his­tor­i­cally taboo – where films can show flensed skin and ripped throats, tele­vi­sion has to be more mind­ful of a main­stream au­di­ence’s sen­si­bil­i­ties.

8. More­over, the old-school hor­ror strat­egy of build­ing ten­sion through jump scares sim­ply doesn’t work. A 90-minute movie can send you duck­ing be­hind your pop­corn by hav­ing mon­sters jump out of the shad­ows at semi-reg­u­lar in­ter­vals. Across a 10-hour se­ries such as sea­son one of the Haunt­ing of Hill House the law of di­min­ish­ing re­turns quickly kicks and those elec­tric shocks los­ing their jolt.

9. Flana­gan’s great in­sight is that prop­erly scary TV must cleave to the same rhythms of a hor­ri­fy­ing novel. Here King may have de­tected his own in­flu­ence. King’s clas­sic chillers work by ramp­ing up the fright fac­tor grad­u­ally – so that, even as the reader can see what the mae­stro is do­ing, there is no re­sist­ing its ef­fec­tive­ness. That’s ex­actly what is go­ing on with The Haunt­ing of Hill House. Flana­gan is never coy with the viewer. It’s ob­vi­ous from the out­set that Hill House has ef­fec­tively placed a su­per­nat­u­ral curse on the Crain fam­ily and that, try as they might, there’s no out­run­ning it. Far from mak­ing mat­ters pre­dictable, this con­jures a dread that, punc­tu­ated with the oc­ca­sional boo from be­yond, be­comes cu­mu­la­tively suf­fo­cat­ing.

10. Con­trast this ap­proach with the far less ef­fec­tive tac­tic of other re­cent hor­ror shows. For all its pop­u­lar­ity no­body would claim zom­bie ca­per TheWalk­ingDead is gen­uinely un­nerv­ing. It’s a bash-’em-up in which the zom­bies serve as a metaphor for con­ta­gion or a face­less, re­lent­less en­emy – but not to the point where it’s go­ing to make any­one feel like they want to throw up.

11. The Haunt­ing of Hil­lHouse is dif­fer­ent. Even if it doesn’t have you tak­ing to Twit­ter in a cold sweat, this is a se­ries that digs its claws in. If there is a prece­dent it is the more dis­qui­et­ing se­quences of David Lynch’s Twin Peaks – which cast a dark spell many view­ers have yet to fully shake off all these decades later. It’s not im­plau­si­ble to imag­ine The Haunt­ing of Hill House hav­ing a sim­i­lar im­pact. When it’s scary, it is very scary. But it’s when it holds a mir­ror up to real life – and asks the viewer to con­front their own demons – that it truly grabs hold and re­fuses to let go.

(Steve Di­etl/Net­flix)

Lulu Wil­son as young Shirley, Vi­o­let McGraw as Young Nell and Ju­lian Hil­liard as Young Luke in the TV show.

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