Has fall gotten you down? Did your seasonal depression kicked in the moment department stores rolled out their Christmas decorations? Does the overcast make you feel like the days are all bleeding together? Does the sight of a box of week old Cheeze Its on the nightstand at 1PM look like breakfast in bed? Will daylight savings push you further into the arms of madness? Maybe somebody needs a staycation?
Why no spend your mental health days watching The Haunting of Hill House.
The Haunting of Hill House follows the Crain family through multiple timelines, telling a story in the order of its mysteries. The flashbacks take place in the 90s when they spent a summer trying to flip the house. Early on we learn the father drove off with his children in the middle of the night after their mother died under mysterious circumstances. Now the family is fractured, spread throughout the country, and haunted, some literally.
Here 5 reasons why I think you should cast off your personal responsibilities and watch this show.
It is the Where’s Waldo of Haunted House TV Shows
Much like It Follows, Ghost Watch, and Insidious, The Haunting of Hill House trains viewers to scan the shadows for anything out of the ordinary. After episode one you’ll be searching the cellars for silhouettes, analyzing archways for apparitions, and foraging the foreground for faces. While there are plenty of monstrous manifestations and outright jump scares the Hill House’s eeriest entities are hide in plain sight. Pay close attention to every flashback scene, odds are there’s a ghost just standing right over a character’s shoulder.
Screen Rant put together this handy cheat sheet of each ghost sighting throughout the season. Have it loaded up so you can freak out anyone else you’re watching with.
Episode 6 and the Choreographed Long Takes
Episode 6 consists of 5 straight takes with no edits. The longest being the third, which clocks in at around 17 minutes. I’m a huge fan of choreographed long takes whether it’s the opening of The Player, The X-Files episode Beyond the Sea, or that infamous Dare Devil hallway fight sequence. Hitchcockian long takes ratchet up the tension by making scenes feel like they’re happening in the moment.
Long takes are also a great place for in camera magic tricks. Now you see a ghost. Now you don’t. I’m surprised the technique isn’t utilized in horror more often.
Not only does the effect make the scares more jarring it makes the Crain family’s grief more engaging. It makes each cast member’s performance all the more riveting and gives each sequence the intimacy of a stage play. The production was shut down for 6 weeks so the actors could rehearse these scenes and Goddamn it was worth it.
It is a Magnum Opus from a Budding Horror Director
This show has very little to do with the Shirley Jackson novel of the same name. Yes, there’s a haunted house with a huge spiral staircase, but there are no paranormal investigators. Most of this is an original creation by writer director Mike Flanagan who is known for one of the better Stephen King adaptation’s Gerald’s Game, the surprisingly effective prequel Ouija: Origin of Evil, andHush.
Flanagan also directed one of my personal favorite horror films in recent years: Oculus, the story of cursed mirror with the power to distort reality. The Haunting of Hill House shares many of that movies themes and the Lasser Glass, the haunted mirror, happens to be hanging on the wall of the Hill House.
Effective Character Driven Horror
Horror movies only have so much time to fit their scares in. They tend to front load all the characterization to the first act. The Netflix format allows for tough and touching character moments throughout. By giving every of the Crain family member their own episodes we find ourselves invested in the whole family.
In slasher films the characters are often written as annoying despicable people so that the audience will applause their investable evisceration. Here we don’t want to watch any of the characters to meet their end even when we know it’s coming.
It’s A Ghost Story that Respects Skepticism
I hate ghost stories where rational explanations for hauntings aren’t explored. Conversely I hate it when the reality of the haunting is so ambiguous we’re left wondering if anything supernatural happened at all. My favorite ghost stories find a sweet spot between the irrational and the rational. They explore common causes of hallucinations: sleep paralysis, sleeping deprivation, and mental illness. Then they tease out supernatural explanation.
The monster of the week episodes of The X-Files mastered this formula by making a skeptic part of the show. The Haunting of Hill House has its very own Dana Scully in the form of Steven a horror writer and paranormal investigator. Steven is there to acknowledge our intellect before Hill House can sidestep it.
If you’re an actor looking for monologue material then boy do I have a show for you. The moment this show had me came in episode 1 when Mrs. Walker recounted the car accident that took her husband and the subsequent haunting. That long extended close up felt like a mission statement. The Haunting of Hill House set out to tell an emotional character driven story. Its scares are well staged, but they benefit most from how much we care about the survival of its characters. A lesson we horror writers would do well to remember.
Meet Noelle, a Hollywood transplant that’s been subsisting on instant ramen and false hope. She’s on the verge of moving back into her mother’s trailer when her agent convinces her to take a meeting at the Oralia Hotel. Enchanted by the art deco atmosphere Noelle signs a contract without reading the fine print.
Now she has one month to pen a novel sequestered in a fantasy suite where a hack writer claims he had an unholy encounter. With whom you ask? Well, he has many names: Louis Cypher, Bill Z. Bub, Kel Diablo. The Devil.
Noelle is skeptical, until she’s awoken by a shadow figure with a taste for souls.
Desperate to make it Noelle stays on, shifting the focus of her story to these encounters. Her investigations take her through the forth wall and back again until she’s blurred the line between reality and what’s written. Is there a Satanic conspiracy, is it a desperate author’s insanity, or something else entirely?