I finished this Netflix series almost immediately after it debuted on Netflix but saved on reviewing it so as not to spoil it for potential readers. Since I have given everyone more than enough time to watch it, here are my thoughts (of course this article contains spoilers, so go and watch the damn show if you haven’t already!)
The Basic Overview
The show is divided into ten episodes and is, of course, based on Shirley Jackson’s novel of the same name. It was created and directed by Mike Flanagan and stars /takes deep breath/ Michiel Huisman, Carla Gugino, Henry Thomas, Elizabeth Reaser, Oliver Jackson-Cohen, Kate Siegel, Victoria Pedretti, Lulu Wilson, Mckenna Grace, Paxton Singleton, Julian Hilliard, Violet McGraw, and Timothy Hutton.
It’s a modern reimagining and divides its episodes between the past and present lives of the Crain family and relies heavily on atmospheric suspense and unnamed uneasiness than straight gore and horror.
The General Plot
The original novel by Jackson is set close to the 1950s. A doctor rents a supposedly haunted house hoping to study it and recruits two young women who he believes can help “jumpstart” the house to stay with him. The house’s young heir is also there and together, all four, begin to experience eerie happenings and terror. You can read the novel for free if you want from here.
The Netflix series takes many parts of the original novel but completely re-imagines it. Now it’s a family who has moved into the Hill House (named after previous owners) to flip it so they can get the cash they need to build their own family dream home. This family has the name Crain (like the original owners of the house in Jackson’s novel) and is made up of Mom, Dad, and five kids: Steven, Shirley, Theodora, Eleanor, and Luke. For those of you who have read the book, you’ll notice that the youngest Crain children are named after the three young adults from the novel. Shirley – I have to believe – must have been named after the author.
The show is riddled with callouts to the novel and its author such as Nell’s cup of stars, Theo reading The Lottery, the mom talking about stones falling onto the roof of her childhood home like what happens to Novel Nell, the lion doorknobs could be a callout to the stone lions Novel Nell sees by a country cottage, and so on and so on.
I enjoyed the Netflix adaptation a lot. I felt like it incorporated Jackson’s gothic themes and reliance on atmospheric terror very well. I also liked the split between the past and present lives of the Crain family and the slow reveal of the house’s dangers. The incidents are minor enough to begin with: banging, short visions of ghosts, and then escalates to crawling corpses, exploding windows, and sinister phantoms.
I loved that each episode focussed on a different character and their experience of Hill House, as well as their view of their mother and her decline into madness. All the characters were well-rounded and dynamic, making for an interesting cast.
Special effects were used sparingly and effectively to amp up the creep factor (Luke’s OD, anyone? Yuck!) I also didn’t expect the mother to truly be a villain at all and was pretty shocked at the murder in the Red Room reveal. Also, when it is revealed that the Red Room is able to change to suit whoever comes to visit and trick them into thinking it could give them what they wanted was pretty eerie. Additionally, in the novel, the Dudleys were pretty dull characters so it was interesting to see how Flanagan gave them more of a story and a sad one at that.
Okay, guys, hold onto your pants. So, when I first watched the show, I really didn’t like the ending. I was originally going to give it a 7/10, but then something was bugging me because the ending seemed way too perfect. Like [SPOILERS] dad comes through and sacrifices himself to save the rest of his kids and then he and all the other little ghosties get to live as a family. Theo gets her perfect girlfriend, Luke stays sober, Steven gets back with and knocks up his wife, Shirley makes up with her husband. Everyone gets their happy ending, which seems a little out of the theme of the show.
Now it could have just been nothing but I went and googled like crazy and found that a twist to the ending had been confirmed by the actor who plays Luke during an interview with TheWrap. Yup, it looks like there really wasn’t an out-of-place happy ending. In fact, no one in the Crain family made it out alive and the ending is actually really, truly dark.
Let’s take a look at what dark Easter eggs were hidden for us in the show. Remember when it gets called out that all the rooms everyone remembers weren’t actually there? For example; the mom’s reading room, Theo’s dance room, Luke’s treehouse, and Shirley’s family room. If you re-watch it knowing that these rooms are actually the Red Room, you can notice an obvious detail: at least one thing in everyone’s special little Red Room was red. In the reading room, the mom sits in a red armchair, Luke’s treehouse has red walls, and Steve’s game room has a red bean bag chair, Shirley’s family room has a red blanket, Nell’s toy room has a red suitcase, etc.
At the tail end of the show, each sibling experiences some vivid hallucinations and dreams as the Red Room tries to trap them and every single dream has something red: Theo’s sexy romp in bed features her girl wearing red lingerie, Steve is wearing a red sweater as his wife berates her, Luke has red Chucks on in the hotel room (it took me five minutes with a paused screen to notice that one,) and Shirley has a red shirt while she dreams she is back at the hotel with her lover.
See a theme? I hope so. I mean the hint is in the name.
Now you’re asking me what this has to do with anything.
Well, in the last happy shot of the siblings celebrating Luke’s second year of sobriety, what colour is the cake I ask you?
That’s right, there is some damn red icing on that cake. Who buys such a dark cake? It’s black and red!
Hope you enjoyed my little review of The Haunting of Hill House! Talk soon, lovelies!
x P.L. McMillan