Released through Netflix a couple of years ago, The Haunting of Hill House is a 10 part mini-series based on the famous haunted house novel by Shirley Jackson which was made twice before into movies, the most famous of which was the Robert Wise directed version, called The Haunting, and released in 1963.
Here’s the thing, though: While the mini-series bears the same name as the novel and has a few of the artifacts which are present in it, including the look of Hill House (which is almost the very same) and several characters who have the same names, this mini-series is very much a reimagining of the story, to the point where it is hard to call it more than “inspired by” the original novel and -to a degree visually- the original movie.
Which is not to say this is a bad thing!
The fact of the matter is that The Haunting of Hill House is an incredibly ambitious and at times spectacular mini-series which sadly, IMHO, falls in its concluding moments.
But we’ll get to that in a moment.
The series expertly moves in time, from the past when a young Hugh Crain (in the past played by Henry Thomas and in the present by Timothy Hutton) and his wife Olivia (Carla Gugino) and their large family consisting of Steven, Shirley, Theodora, and young twins Luke and Nell arrive at Hill House to “flip” it. Through flashbacks and scenes set in the present, we learn that a great tragedy occurred at Hill House and, soon enough, realize Olivia died there and that all kinds of eerie, ghostly events occurred as well.
The events of the night of Olivia’s death are slowly hinted, and their repercussions in the present are shown in a shattered family, now consisting of grown ups, with all kinds of hang ups. The very youngest of the Crains, Nell (who we find was born only 90 some seconds after her twin brother Luke), tries to call her siblings but is unable to for various reasons.
Worse, her father -who the now grown kids all view as flaky, to say the least- are put off when he calls to say he spoke with Nell and is worried she’s about to do something bad.
As it turns out, she returns to Hill House and once there, appears to commit suicide.
This proves to the be the singular action that brings the remaining members of the Crain family together, and in the course of the show’s episodes, we come to learn what happened to each individual member of the family when they were young kids… and come to learn what they’ve become as adults and how they eventually deal with the horror they faced in Hill House.
At times, the mini-series is flat out brilliant. There is one episode in particular that features a very long “one take” (I’m sure they cheated a little here and there, but still!) at the funeral home where Nell’s body is on display. As a fan of movies, that sequence took my breath away.
Further, the movie gives you some genuinely creepy moments and well earned scares. We feel for these people, each and every one of them, and by the end I even let out a couple of tears…
It really pains me to say it but the movie’s final episode, actually the final half hour or so of the series, while very emotional and caused me to wipe a few tears away also subverts what came before it to such a degree that, when all was said and done, I felt more and more bothered by it.
It’s a tough thing to say, after some 8 and 1/2 hours of pretty damn brilliant work to feel let down by the last 1/2 hour or so, but I have to be honest: It bugged me.
I don’t want to get into SPOILERS so I’ll do so after presenting the mini-series’ trailer. Even then, I’m going to try to tread lightly because, frankly, even with the disappointment I felt after the fact, I still loved so much about this mini-series that I recommend it strongly regardless.
Perhaps others won’t be quite as bothered by the ending and I sincerely wish I could say the same.
Still, strongly recommended!
Just for the heck of it -and before we get into SPOILERS- here’s the trailer for the original version of the book, 1963’s The Haunting…
YOU’VE BEEN WARNED!!!
If you have any interest in seeing this mini-series, I strongly urge you NOT to proceed. As I said above, I will try not to spoil everything but nonetheless I’m going to be talking about what bothered me about the series’ ending and, by doing so, I will inevitably spoil quite a bit.
So, please, if you intend to see the series, do so before proceeding.
You’ll be happier.
OK, so here goes:
The Haunting of Hill House essentially has the various members of the Crain family come together -reluctantly in many of their cases- because of the death of the youngest member of the family, Nell, who returned to the dreaded Hill House, where their mother died, and apparently committed suicide there.
By being brought together, however, we revisit what they experienced in Hill House originally, and through the course of the mini-series we come to find that they saw many ghostly creatures and, understandably, came out of this not all that well.
Again, I don’t want to spoil everything, but the series’ climax has them returning to the house to try to save one of them, who has returned to the house to destroy it, not realizing that by doing so they may well be feeding its evil.
They arrive, mostly separately, and there they are placed in the “heart” of the house, the place where it wants them, to feed of them, to have their souls.
Here’s the thing, though: after spending some 8 and 1/2 hours or so being told how evil the house is, how it killed both their mother and youngest sister/daughter, the finale of the series shows them confronting the house and their fear and, despite the fact that the house still wants them dead, makes this very, very sharp turn where the spirit of their dead sister/daughter makes them realize they need each other and, I don’t know, where their love for each other makes them come together. All but one of them leave this place all happy and with their terrors resolved. Also, we’re given one more plot addition, another last minute victim of Hill House whose parents -preposterously- allow their child’s death to pass and agree to hide it. Years later these parents return to the house to, I don’t know, join the spirt of their daughter more fully as they pass away.
So this house that for 8 and 1/2 hours is presented as this black, evil thing, is suddenly this place where all these traumas are resolved for everyone and even come back to the house to seek peace!!!!
This makes no sense given all the horrors we see earlier on and the very clear indications that Hill House is evil.
Again, I really, really hate to go after such a magnificent series but the change in tone at the very end of the series proved simply too great for me. It was the equivalent of story telling whiplash.
I’ll say no more because, again, I don’t want to spoil everything. Suffice it to say, perhaps it won’t be as bothersome to others as it was to me.
Still, even with that ending, I still loved the mini-series. Next up is The Haunting of Bly Manor, released this year and featuring many of the same actors in a story of a different haunted house.
When I see it, I’ll give you my impressions!