This series will definitely inspire and pave way for more series to be made in the horror genre without trying too hard to make the viewers jump out of their skins… Spoilers ahead.
“Aaaargh..”, screams young Nell (Violet Mcgraw). She has woken up from a nightmare or that’s what her father Hugh Crain (Henry Thomas) thinks. But she says that she saw a bent-neck lady. He calms her daughter down and exits the room and closes the door slowly. Diagonally opposite is the room of the other daughter and he finds that she is sleeping quietly. He notices that the door of young Nell’s room is open again, closes it shut and goes back to his room. By this time, the expectation of seeing a ghost or something is already sky-high. The camera is focussing on the door that opened itself, slowly turns left towards the adjacent wall and the scene cuts. This scene comes at the start of the first episode. Such is the brilliance of this series that even when there are no ghosts around, you are terrified by the thought of seeing it.
Created and directed by Mike Flanagan, Netflix’s The Haunting of Hill House is a supernatural horror series which is based on Shirley Jackson’s novel of the same name. Over the course of 10 episodes, we travel along the journey of a family whose lives are haunted by their short stay at the Hill House. The greatest strength of this series is the way it is structured in its writing. There is a constant juggling between two different timelines. One of the timelines, which is also the root of the whole story around which everything depends upon, shows the terrifying things that happened to the family in Hill House in 1992. The other timeline shows the present world, that is, 26 years later, where we see how the events at the house have shaped up the lives of the family members. So, what happens here is that it lets you put different pieces together and keeps you constantly under its grip. And when I say young Nell or young Luke (Julian Hilliard), I am referring to the younger version of these characters during their stay at the Hill House.
This series is not about never-seen-before moments. The horrifying scenes are something that we have seen or experienced in different horror movies. There are no forced inclusions of ghosts to scare you. There are no unnecessary loud screams to frighten you or annoy you for that matter. It keeps you on your toes and takes ample amount of time to allow the fear to grow on your mind. When Shirley (Elizabeth Reaser), the eldest daughter, opens the door thinking that some kid is playfully knocking on her door, there is no one outside. And the next moment you hear loud bangs from all corners of the house sending down chills all over your body. In another scene, Hugh Crain wakes up in shock seeing his wife Olivia (Carla Gugino) sitting over him holding a knife-like object against his neck. There is a feeling of terror as, like Olivia, we try to picture how she got here in the first place.
Well, we do see appearances of ghosts but they come at the right places and their transient presence is enough to make your heart go pitter and patter. A tall ghost, with its feet just above the floor, slides inside a room. Young Luke, one of the sons of Hugh Crain, who is hiding under the bed, makes a sound out of fear and the tall ghost bends down to take a look at him. In another scene, Shirley is embalming, which is a way of forestalling the decomposition of the dead body, and while she is doing that, we are horror-struck by the anticipation of some ghostly thing to happen but nothing happens. And when she is done embalming and is leaving the room, she sees the ghost of her mother Olivia sitting on a table and beckoning her. Most frightening ghost in this series is the bent-neck lady. We see her appearing on top of young Nell. She even pops up out of nowhere in the car to scare the wits out of Shirley and her sister Theo (Kate Siegel).
There were scenes where someone just talks about a hair-raising experience where it compels you to imagine and feel the chills. A woman explains a horrific experience to Steven Crain (Michiel Huisman) who is another son of Hugh Crain. She explains how her husband died in a car crash and saw his ghost hanging over the ceiling of her room. We do not see any visuals here but it is so terrifying to just envisage that. In another scene, Dudley, who is a caretaker of Hill House along with his wife, explains how he asked his wife not to stay at Hill House after dark and stopped seeing strange events happening in his house. Such scenes just raised the bar higher and made this series as frightful as it can be.
I felt like the series started losing the grip post-midway. It did not scatter my wits as it did in the first five episodes (there are 10 episodes in total). But it did not bother me much because I was still engrossed and affrighted as the series uncovered more important details of the events that happened at the Hill House. Mike Flanagan’s writing is top-notch coupled with great performances from the casts. This series will definitely inspire and pave way for more series to be made in the horror genre without trying too hard to make the viewers jump out of their skins.