Let’s take a look at Netflix’s new flagship.
The Haunting of Hill House is an ambitious new series from Netflix. The cast is huge, so you can find out actor information here. The series blends family drama with a classic haunted house story, and then turns thing upside down by having most of the series take place after the family has left the house—but has the house left them?
The series is receiving unmitigated praise, and it largely deserves this. We follow the Crain family (and there are a lot of them). Two parents, five children, and young versions of all the children and the dad. This gives as a whopping 13 characters to keep straight pretty much from the first episode. The series mostly did an excellent job on the young actors growing into their adult selves (Luke doesn’t seem to fit), and this makes getting to know them fairly easy. I have heard some gripes that everyone is hard to keep straight, but I think an active viewer will be more or less grounded by the end of the second episode.
Years in the past, the Crain family flees from their home after their mother dies. The father blames the house, and we aren’t given a clear view of what happened. The children, angry at their father for keeping secrets, and now a tabloid sensation all grow up with various degrees of problems. Further complicating things is that the siblings (mostly) don’t get along. Everyone is pissed at Steven for capitalizing on the events via a novel. Nell is distant and troubled. Luke is an addict. Theo is abrasive. Shirley is demanding. Lastly, the father is still traumatized.
The story is character driven through and through. What impressed me the most was that each of the characters is a believable person. Not all of them are likable (and many are unlikable), but I know people with almost all of these traits in some way. The family dynamic works excellently, and the harsh reality of sibling disdain is at the forefront of each episode. They may love each other, but none of them like each other. No matter what the situation, old wounds are constantly picked at until everyone walks away with hurt feelings.
The present day narrative is interesting, but takes a little while to get rolling. Our early scares and plot development comes primarily through several flashbacks. If you don’t like flashbacks, you won’t enjoy this series. The flashbacks mostly serve a narrative purpose, and the series focuses on one individual each episode, so you get into a single character’s head. The episodes blend well together, and we are constantly given a small piece of the puzzle before it all comes together.
I enjoyed the series immensely, and I do think this shows that Netflix can and should compete with other major networks. I have never done an episode-by-episode review, and I am not going to start now. Overall, the show is very well made, but there are some flaws. The biggest complaint I have is with the last two episodes. I won’t say anything to spoil the plot, but I wasn’t satisfied with the resolution.
The larger issue with the show is that the series could have been at least an episode shorter. I remember saying a similar thing about Stranger Things. The need for ten episodes seems to always create a bit of dead air. While I think ST should have been six episodes, this one should probably have been eight. There isn’t a dud episode, but there are moments that could be trimmed a bit. None of it is necessarily bad, but you can tell they were filling out certain things just to fill them out.
The series is fun, and has a constant dreadful atmosphere. I personally didn’t think it was very scary, I’d say creepy at best. Fans of horror will like it, fans of family dramas will like it, and fans of both will probably love it. The series is better than its faults, and is probably some of the best television this year. I highly recommend it.