The Haunting of Hill House, the sca­riest TV show ever

La nou­velle sé­rie d’hor­reur de Netflix.

Vocable (Anglais) - - Édito | Sommaire - ED PO­WER

The Haunting of Hill House a fait une en­trée très re­mar­quée dans le ca­ta­logue de Netflix en oc­tobre der­nier. La sé­rie d’hor­reur de Mike Fla­na­gan, adap­tée du ro­man épo­nyme de Shir­ley Jack­son, met en scène les re­trou­vailles d'une fra­trie ayant gran­di dans une mai­son han­tée. Le maître de l’hor­reur, Ste­phen King, n’a pas ta­ri d’éloges sur cette sé­rie très ef­fi­cace...

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 The Haunting of 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 of true ori­gi­na­li­ty and da­ring. “I don’t usual­ly care for this kind of re­vi­sio­nism, but this is great,” he twee­ted. “Close to a work of ge­nius, real­ly. I think Shir­ley Jack­son would ap­prove, but who knows for sure.”

A SPIRITUAL AGONY

4. As with King’s de­vas­ta­ting pu­ber­ty al­le­go­ry Car­rie, The Haunting of Hill House turns the pain of gro­wing up in­to a li­te­ral spiritual agony. Fla­na­gan flashes back and forth bet­ween the present-day adul­thood of the dys­func­tio­nal Crain si­blings and their 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.

HOR­ROR FOR TV

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 The Wal­king Dead 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 Hill House 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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