Haunting on Hill House is a tight ten episode series on Netflix about a doomed family who once lived in a very doomed house. The series is split between the past, when the family used to live in the haunted house, and the present, where the surviving members of the family try to deal with the PTSD of their experiences. They are pretty haunted.
Haunted house stories follow a set pattern. There is the naive family who has no idea what is going on, followed by creepy incidents until everyone realizes they are haunted, which usually leads to some investigations into the history of the house and ends with the collective decision to somehow fight the ghosts. The flashback style of the show short-circuits most of that. There never is an investigation phase for one thing. For most of the series, half the characters never realize there are ghosts. There is still a fight with ghosts at the end, but the rest of the series breaks all the usual patterns to present a unique kind of ghost story.
Well, maybe not that unique. The director, Mike Flanagan, got his start with Absentia. If you ever saw that soul crusher of a movie, then you are moderately prepared for Haunting of Hill House. See, there might be supernatural weirdness and ghosts in both stories but the real horror is grief and how we deal with it. Flanagan uses Hill House to tell the story of each family member dealing with the death of the beloved mother. One resorts to drugs, one uses major denial and fictionalizing the events, one uses meaningless relationships, one turns to controlling her life and family and the other, well, the other is still dealing with a ghost that keeps harassing her at the worse moments of her life, but you get the idea.
But I don’t want to give you the feeling that this is all sorrow and woe. There is a lot of really creepy ghost shit. There is not a single jump scare as it uses slowly creeping dread to make sure you are afraid to walk down a dark hallway alone.
There is also a lot of strength. These characters have gone through Hell, and those who fight are some of the most inspiring characters you will see in a ghost story. Once you understand how truly fucked these characters are, every triumph they accomplish is just that much more amazing.
I can safely say that Haunting of Hill House has been the highlight of this October. Creepy, smart and infused with real emotion, it is all the best that horror can be.