I am a huge fan of the book by Shirley Jackson so I eagerly anticipated this series. I’ve previously reviewed the book and have left a link to that post below for those interested. Importantly, the book does not spoil the TV adaptation. The series drew inspiration from the book but is a very different story. There was a film adaptation a few years back starring Liam Neeson and Catherine Zeta Jones but let’s pretend that doesn’t exist, shall we? The movie was terrible.
For those of you who are unaware, this is a haunted house story. Or is it? The story opens by focusing on the eldest son of the Crain family, Steven, who spent one fateful summer living in a property known as Hill House. The series flips back and forth between the younger Crain family and the present day adults that the children have become. It has been over twenty years since the family left Hill House but they each remain haunted in their own way. The most affected is the youngest daughter Nell who’s seemingly unending trauma is the catalyst for the Crain family finally confronting the ghosts of their past. Are these ghosts real or a manifestations of an inherited mental illness? The characters grapple with that question and the series remains ambiguous until the very end. Without spoiling anything the end does address this very question satisfactorily.
The series has plenty of scares, some are the typical “jump” scares you find in the horror/thriller genre and others are more of a pervasive sense of dread that seeps through the various proceedings. This is especially true in the flashback scenes when the Crain children were young. Then again, children in peril always makes me uneasy. Both types of scare tactics are quite effective, as are the actors for the most part. All of the adults were well cast. Sister Theodora and mom Olivia were standouts (and hello Daario Naharis!) but some of the children were not always believable. I suppose that is to be expected with a young cast.
A few observations:
- The story is often told in flashback mode, where certain events are viewed from different perspectives. Other series have used this approach to great effect (Showtime’s The Affair comes to mind) but here the alternating viewpoints were not different enough to keep me engaged. I found myself fast forwarding through many of these scenes when, arguably, I should have been searching for clues to the truth of the situation. I guess I didn’t feel compelled to do that.
- The Crain’s were spending a summer at Hill House on the pretense that the parents were going to flip the house and cement their fortune. Hill House is a monstrous dwelling (literally and figuratively) and there is no way two people – parents of 5 children no less – would be able to update this dilapidated mansion over the course of one summer. A more believable backstory would have been a surprise inheritance from a distant relative that needed to be sorted and readied for sale. Ah, what could have been!
- The cast is quite large and the women all kind of resembled each other. It took a while to sort out who was who.
These quibbles are mostly minor in nature and did not really impact my overall enjoyment of the series. The finale was very strong and nicely pulled all the narrative threads together into a cohesive conclusion. Like the book, there is a major twist in the end; one that I sensed but did not exactly see coming. Cleverly, this twist is very different from the one in the book but no less impactful.
On Netflix I find that there are worthy binges and unworthy binges. This was the former and released just in time for Halloween. Enjoy!