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Haunting of Hill House is brilliant and terrifying

There is nothing quite like staying up until 2:00 a.m., screaming along with roommates to Netflix’s newest original horror show: The Haunting of Hill House. I have rewatched the show twice in a single week–a testament to just how enthralling it is.

The Haunting of Hill House is the latest reimaging of Shirley Jackson’s classic horror novel of the same name. It seems like a simple formula: a happy family with young children and doting parents moves into a normal looking home that actually contains a sinister backstory and begins to torment the family until it breaks them apart. However, director and writer Mike Flanagan appears to have found a way to morph this story into something much more striking.

Flanagan has expanded past traditional adaptations of Jackson’s novel by focusing on the family outside of their experiences in Hill House–in fact, most of the show does not take place in the haunted house. Viewers follow the Crain family, especially the children Shirley, Luke, Theo, and twins Luke and Nell after they all experience increasingly terrifying moments in the house before it culminates in an experience that ends with their mother dead and their father whisking them away, refusing to speak about what really occurred.

The series shifts between the past and present with flashbacks that begin to unravel the mysterious and terrifying night as four of the children and their dad attempt to also cope with Nell’s sudden suicide after she returns to Hill House for an unknown reason.

The first few episodes are slow and at times struggle to balance the set up with the frights, however, they do establish the two major ghouls that will continue to haunt the twins into their adult life—the Bent-Neck Lady and Floating Man.

Hidden ghosts in the background are easy to miss but when you manage to spot them they help build the gothic and mysterious vibe that builds throughout the series. Many of them ironically appear as grown-up characters who assure the young children that they’re safe from their imaginary ghouls.

For me, the series truly turned captivating from Episode 5 and forward. Episode 5 finally reveals the truth of Nell’s suicide, following her from meltdown after meltdown and a life full of torment at the hands of the Bent-Neck Lady that left me unable to sleep the entire night.  Episode 6, however, is truly breathtaking and arguably the best episode in the whole series. The ensemble cast finally comes together in “Two Storms” in a powerful and electric way. The whole episode consists of beautiful transitions between elaborate sequences of the past and present including the opening 23-minute tracking shot that perfectly blends the young and grown-up Crain family and a powerful 17-minute scene later in the episode that keeps the viewer glued to the screen.

Overall Flanagan has managed to expand a simple blueprint into one that weaves generational trauma, mental illness, and drug addiction into all the expected jump scares and spooks and effectively builds and builds tension until all the puzzle pieces come together in an emotional climax.

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