Classic horror and modern issues

Netflix’s ‘The Haunting of Hill House’ will leave you on the edge of your seat

Many have argued that TV shows are the modern novel, being able to carry out a story through detailed episodes that resemble chapters of a book. Using this notion, networks and creators with visionary ambitions have yielded major profits.

“The Haunting of Hill House,” the 10 episode Netflix show based off of Shirley Jackson’s 1959 gothic horror novel, is no exception to this concept. Director Mike Flanagan is able to encapsulate the sheer terror of this ghost story in a new and exciting style on camera. 

I use the phrase “ghost story” loosely. The show revolves around the psychological trauma a family of seven had faced after their experiences at Hill House. By jumping back and forth between a timeline of present day and the past, the show follows the adult lives of the five children in conjunction with events that took place within the house in their childhood. What is truly unique about this mode of narration is the constant anticipation and anxiety projected on to the audience. They crave to find out more about what actually happened in Hill House to disturb the characters so much, driving the plot forward.

Flanagan, who also directed the movies “Oculus” and “Gerald’s Game,” used the genre of horror in this single season show to focus on the tangible effects of mental illness and the blurry line that it draws between reality and hallucination, a theme that haunts this story. Yet, the challenge of maintaining the fear that is expected of horror throughout several episodes is a dilemma that must be faced. After the first few episodes though, I proceeded to watch the show from the crack between my fingers covering my eyes. Flanagan effectively left me racking up the electricity bill from leaving the lights on.

Throughout the show, there are plenty of jump scares but they are not overused or overplayed. Any horror movie connoisseur knows that the jump scare is a crucial element, but if it is used too often or at the wrong time, the entire effect is thrown off and it makes the rest of the film cheesey. I am pleased to report “The Haunting of Hill House” did no such thing. 

Eventually, the show comes full circle at the end and leaves the audience with closure. This kind of happy ending is not characteristic of a horror piece, but considering the circumstances, the ending finally allowed the audience (along with the characters) to finally breathe again, which I found was necessary. 

Moreover, the manipulation of camera angles and the variation in each shot added so much more to the gripping sitting-on-the-edge-of-your seat feeling. The effects from this clever usage of the camera maintained the terror throughout the show. It also allowed for a more intense storytelling method. 

What has been called the mother of all ghost stories and also one of Stephen King’s favorite books is now presented in a completely modern and stylistic way. 

“The Haunting of Hill House” both respects the classic conventions of horror and also addresses the issues that are prevalent in our world today in a warped and enticing manner. 

As a Netflix show, “The Haunting of Hill House,” is a truly gripping and intoxicating visual performance that leaves its audience contemplating so much more than just the ghosts we all carry with us. It encourages creativity and ambition to push the limits of what is understood as conventional horror.

By taking a story that had been recycled over and over again, Mike Flanagan and Netflix bring a fresh, new perspective to this beloved classic that I would recommend to those who enjoy the twists and turns of psychological horror. 

~Abby Saether, Staff Writer~

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