Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (October 16, 2019)
Back in 1959, Shirley Jackson’s novel The Haunting of Hill House hit the shelves. This resulted in a much-lauded Robert Wise film in 1963 and a much-loathed Jan de Bont version in 1999.
2018 brought yet another take on the property via the Netflix series The Haunting of Hill House. This 3-disc package provides all 10 of the episodes, with plot synopses from the insert.
As an intro, the series looks at “five siblings who grew up in the most famous haunted house in America. Now adults, they're forced to finally confront the ghosts of their own pasts, some which lurk in their minds and some which may really be lurking in the shadows of the iconic Hill House.”
Steven Sees a Ghost: “While investigating a ghost story for his latest novel, a skeptical Steven (Michiel Huisman) receives a call from his sister that triggers a chain of fateful events.”
With an opening episode, we want basic set-up for characters and situations with a little drama along the way as well. “Ghost” does well in this guard, as it lets us into the series’ world in an inviting manner.
Open Casket: “A devastating family tragedy stirs memories of traumatic losses, reminding Shirley (Elizabeth Reaser) of her first brush with death – and awakening long-dormant fears.”
Based on the first two shows, we can tell this about Haunting: it won’t provide a light, comedic view of the tale. “Casket” follows a grim path, one that digs into the characters’ pasts in an impactful manner.
Touch: “Keenly perceptive, Theo (Kate Siegel) sees shades of herself in a troubled young patient, a girl (Charli Slaughter) who’s haunted by the menacing grin of ‘Mr. Smiley’.”
So far, each episode focuses on one particular character, and Theo gets the lead here. Like the first two shows, “Touch” digs into the situations and roles well to develop matters in an intriguing way.
The Twin Thing: “Still wrestling with addiction – and an unshakable fright – a frantic Luke (Oliver Jackson-Cohen) tries to save a friend (Anna Enger) while sensing his twin sister Nell (Victoria Pedretti) is in danger.”
Unsurprisingly, we get another one-character-oriented show here, a trend that will presumably continue until we cover all five of the Crain kids. In this case, “Twin” seems especially valuable because Luke remained most on the periphery during the first three shows.
“Twin” covers his circumstances well.
The Bent-Neck Lady: “A dark specter with an unsettling silhouette has haunted Nell since she was a girl. Now the ‘Bent-Neck Lady’ is back, and she’s calling Nell home.”
Given the series’ non-chronological focus, we already know Nell’s status, but that doesn’t make “Lady” less valuable. As the final of the five character-focused shows, it wraps up that side of things and seems likely to push the series more firmly toward the future.
Two Storms: “It's a reunion for all the wrong reasons when Hugh (Timothy Hutton) flies in for the funeral, coming face to face with his estranged children on a dark, stormy night.”
Though “Storms” catches up the characters, it spends a lot of time in the past, so expect an episode heavy on flashbacks. That works fine, as the show expands what brought the Crain kids to their messed-up state, and it expands potential horror as well.
Eulogy: “As the Crains gather to say their final goodbyes, a flashback reveals Mr. Dudley's (Robert Longstreet) connection to the house - and exposes a secret in the walls.”
Another strong mix of present day and flashback, “Eulogy” thickens the plot. The series leaves it up for grabs whether or not the Crains experience actual supernatural terror or they’re just screwed up, and “Eulogy” expands those themes well.
Witness Marks: “A familiar terror revisits Shirley and Theo on Halloween night as Hugh and Steve go looking for Luke, who disappeared on a deadly errand.”
The spooky factor escalates here, as “Marks” goes more for overt scares than usual. This works fine, as the episode balances the psychological terror with the active weirdness well.
Screaming Meemies: “While struggling to discern dreams from reality, Olivia (Carla Gugino) fears for her children's safety, a motherly instinct Mrs. Dudley (Annabeth Gish) urges her to embrace.”
All the other Crains got their own “spotlight” episodes, so “Meemies” becomes Olivia chance for one. Obviously, this makes “Meemies” a show focused on flashbacks, and it pursues its goals nicely. The issue of Olivia’s mental health has always been at the core, so I appreciate the way “Meemies” explores her character.
Expect “Meemies” to connect a lot of dots from the first eight episodes. Also expect it to pack a real emotional wallop, as it becomes both the spookiest and the most moving show so far.
Silence Lay Steadily: “The Red Room's contents are finally revealed as the Crains return to the house to confront old ghosts, unspeakable secrets and an insatiable evil.”
After the powerful “Meemies”, “Lay” can’t quite match up, but it still provides a strong conclusion to the series. Given the way Haunting favored character over fright, the finale continues along the same path, and it becomes a more than satisfactory way to end matters.