TV Review: The Haunting of Hill House (Netflix) – Season One

Created by Mike Flanagan and a re-imagining of the 1959 novel of the same name by Shirley Jackson, The Haunting of Hill House premiered on Netflix in October 2018. The story follows five adult siblings – (Michiel Huisman), Shirley (Elizabeth Reaser), Luke (Oliver Jackson-Cohen), Theo (Kate Siegel), and Nell (Victoria Pedrettias) – and flashes between past and present as they confront haunting memories of their old massion, Hill House, and the terrifying events that drove them and their parents – Hugh (Henry Thomas) and Olivia (Carla Gugino) – from it.

Overall Season Rating:

Set across 26 years, The Haunting of Hill House is a horror story that explores many haunting themes: grief, trauma, loss, mental illness and depression. It’s a series that will not only make you jump out of your skin and keeping you watching until it starts getting light outside, but one that will also leave you sobbing your eyes out.

A horror story has never done that to me before, but ghosts are, after all, loved ones from our pasts, memories that we can’t erase, and a reminder of what once was. We often forget about the emotional attachment that people can have to ghosts, rather than just seeing them as something to be afraid of.

And that’s why I absolutely loved this series. There are so many levels to it, with the siblings themselves representing the five stages of grief in the order they were born – denial (Steve), anger (Shirley), bargaining (Theo), depression (Luke), and acceptance (Nell) – with each of these issues being explored at a brilliantly raw depth.

Not only are there the visible ghosts that haunt Hill House and the siblings in the present, but there are also ghosts hidden in the background of many of the scenes which I didn’t see on first viewing. The detail that’s gone into this series is incredible, and the phenomenal performances of both the older and young characters top it off perfectly.

I would have liked some more explanations at the end about the ghosts of Hill House as there was a lot to take in on the last episode, but let’s hope that a second season will focus on the origins of Hill House because I definitely want to find out more.

Buy the season on DVD here

Episode 1: ‘Steven Sees a Ghost’

The first episode focuses on Steven in the present, as we are introduced to him admitting that he’s never seen anything haunting in his life. Nell wants her older brother to look after her in the present and past, yet he seems no longer willing to. Instead, he’s spending his time trying disproving of paranormal activity.

It’s a plot twist used early on. Are we really going to see ghosts? Or was this all in the heads of young children who didn’t know any better? He tells his clients that “a ghost is a wish.” Is this merely him trying to find an excuse to hand out? Or is he implying that he wanted something more from his childhood?

We get to see a glimpse into the other characters, too. We see that Theo seems to get to know people quickly and that she needs the comfort of her gloves, whilst Nell seems to be the most haunted, although Luke is always looking out for her.

These early developments in their relationships are then linked to the present we begin to understand the standpoints of the older characters, too, which are as a result of their younger actions. As Shirley defends her dad by saying that he had just lost his wife and Steven is determined that his mother was mentally ill, not only do these discussions hint at what’s to come, but these explorations of their attitudes build up their characters qualities from the very beginning.

There’s then a scene where we see the siblings crying in the past, asking where their mum as they abruptly leave Hill House. Meanwhile, in the present, Nell goes back to the house. “She’s back,” she says. This first episode is all about setting up how the present story is going to progress whilst also hinting at a big event in their pasts.

We’ve seen little of Hill House as of yet, but we can’t wait to be let inside. What is Nell going back to the house for? We’re certainly filled with a lot of intrigue in this episode. There aren’t many big scares, but there are some really creepy moments, including a figure above Nell’s bed, Luke’s drawings, and Nell’s ghost at the end.

Episode 2: ‘Open Casket’

With this episode focusing on Shirley, we see her first-ever dealing with death and, therefore, how her past experiences of looking after some kittens who have lost their mother have led her to her present self as she looks after her dead sister’s body in the morgue. There are some beautiful moments of dialogue in these scenes, as Shirley is told that these kittens shouldn’t be without their mother and that they’re where they’re supposed to be now.

We also see Luke’s first time into rehab six years before, but he’s still in there. Is he still haunted in his present?

Episode 3: ‘Touch’

Episode three is Theo’s episode, as we start to learn more about her and her ‘ability’. As she touches Nell and breaks down, the intensity of this series amplifies and we’re all left eager to find out what is haunting these characters so badly.

Both the younger and older Theo give my favourite performances in the series, whilst we also get to see where the confrontations between the family started. It really develops incredibly well, not giving much away but also building up to so much and constantly giving us new things to think about.

This episode also sees the scariest scene in the series so far as a young Luke goes into the basement.

Episode 4: ‘The Twin Thing’

Luke’s episode focuses on his twin relationship with Nelly, and also the reasons why he’s in rehab. We also get introduced to one of the more prominent ghosts in the series: the scary man in the bowler hat. I definitely didn’t want to get into bed after this episode.

Episode 5: ‘The Bent-Neck Lady’

And then it was time for Nell’s episode, the youngest sibling. But whilst Nell’s death is at the front of this series and there’s so much more we want to know about her, there’s one more person we’re eager to learn more about: the bent-neck lady.

This is the episode I found most haunting of the series, but I think that’s because of the folklore it is likely to be based around in regards to Nell’s sleeping issues. I remember reading about sleep paralysis when I was younger, about a supernatural creature which is used to explain the phenomenon of sleep paralysis. This demonic gremlin would perch on the end of your bed, and if you fell asleep flat on your back with your hands by your side, a woman would come to visit you in the night and pin you to the bed so that you were unable to move or speak. I’ve been too afraid to sleep on my back ever since.

I suppose it’s this horror tale that this episode is playing on, the fear of somebody taking away all of your powers and you not being able to do anything about it. It definitely has a great effect.

It’s not all gloom, either, as it’s also nice to see some romance and happiness amongst the horror in Nell’s past. But we know that there’s no happy ending for her and the moments of tragedy are emotionally impacting, as everything builds up to what happened to both Nell and her mother on her last night.

Episode 6: ‘Two Storms’

As a storm breaks out in both the past and present, we finally get to meet the older dad, Hugh (Timothy Hutton), properly. There’s definitely something he’s hiding, so we’re all eager for him to reveal the truth about their final night of Hill House and why he seems to have some responsibility for it.

There’s also a beautifully shot scene that sees the camera float around a dark Hill House, despite how terrifying it is, which is one of the most standout moments of the series.

Episode 7: ‘Eulogy’

It’s time to say goodbye to Nell as Hugh tries to reconnect with his children in the present and the final few days at Hill House are revealed in the past. As we start to see Olivia (Carla Gugino) begin to break down in the past, everybody in the present is starting to see scary things. Something is definitely happening.

Episode 8: ‘Witness Marks’

Being one of the scariest episodes so far, the scene in the car actually made me scream out loud in horror.

We’re finally getting some answers with this episode, but so much more is about to be revealed and so much of what we thought we knew is about to be rewritten. You wouldn’t imagine a series like this to be so well developed, but when you rewatch the series and see these layers forming, it’s amazing to see how much effort and depth has been put into the writing, whilst it also seems so simple and straightforward on the surface.

Episode 9: ‘Screaming Meemies’

As Olivia slowly slips into madness, we finally get to see the build-up to the night-of. We also see the start of the story when they move into the house and how different they seem now. This constant reflection throughout the series of the past and present is balanced so well, really allowing you to get into the minds of these characters and their motives. I’ve really loved getting to know them all.

Episode 10: ‘Silence Lay Steadily’

As we learn more about the siblings, we see their different visions of some of their worst fears as they enter the house. It’s a very haunting episode, but also a deeply moving one.

When you think back to episode one where Hugh says that he wants to keep the house, despite his wife’s suicide happening inside, and keeping no staff except for the Dudley’s, now we see why.

As we see Olivia and Hugh reunite, this final episode has such an emotional impact with its closing narratives. It will definitely make you want to rewatch the series to see how these things have all been developed from early on, with the constant hints at what’s to come from the very first episode.

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About Charlie Morris

Proofreader and film blogger living in Cornwall.

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