This is a spoiler-free review.
I was 8 when I saw my mother using a Ouija board.
We were at my cousin’s house and I was wandering around, bored. I opened a random room, and there she was, sitting on the floor, across from my aunt. They both had their hands on a planchette, but they were looking at me. I was immediately yelled at and asked to leave the room.
I was never given an explanation for what I saw.
It was only a couple years later that I found out what it was. However, I didn’t freak out because by then, I was no stranger to my family’s familiarity with spirits.
The aunt, proud owner of the Ouija board, would tell us stories of a floating hand that followed her one night when she was a teacher at a boarding school. A relative claimed a dark figure walked past his bed twice in the middle of the night. An uncle was once stranded in a small town, checked into a shady hotel in the middle of the night, and stayed up the entire time because he heard strange sounds outside his door.
Now, I didn’t believe most of these stories. Sure, I’d feel scared when I heard yet another spooky story, but that’s all. I’d forget it the very next day. And I always assumed these spooky stories were just that–stories.
My sister, on the other hand, was easy to scare. Being 6 years younger than her, I’d constantly look for ways to prove I was braver than her. This led to me watching The Exorcist while I was home alone. Why a ten-year-old was left unsupervised while they watched arguably one of the most scariest movies of the time, I’ll never know.
But I do know this.
Remember the infamous staircase scene from The Exorcist? Ten-year-old me saw that scene. And laughed. I thought the spider-walk was hilarious.
And yet, when tsunami struck my city back then, and the news was filled with videos of bodies floating along down flooded streets, I couldn’t sleep for days. (Again, why I was allowed to watch this, I will never know.)
I’ve always found death and grief scarier than ghouls. There’s enough real stuff to worry about without sprinkling demons and spirits on to it.
And that’s exactly why The Haunting of Hill House works.
Sure, it has jump scares. It has ghosts. And way too many things that go bump in the night.
But it’s not the paranormal that’s scary in this show.
It’s the gripping story about how childhood trauma leaves lasting impressions on adults. Something happened during their time of residence in Hill House that has affected each individual Crain child.
The show starts with the same chilling first lines of the Shirley Jackson novel:
“No live organism can continue for long to exist sanely under conditions of absolute reality; even larks and katydids are supposed, by some, to dream. Hill House, not sane, stood by itself against its hills, holding darkness within; it had stood for eighty years and might stand for eighty more. Within, walls continued upright, bricks met neatly, floors were firm, and doors were sensibly shut; silence lay steadily against the wood and stone of Hill House, and whatever walked there, walked alone.”
The base story is like every horror flick:
- White family moves into an abandoned house that looks like it would make the cover of Haunted Mansions magazine.
- Kids claim to see spirits.
- Parents ignore kids and chill, until very soon, they find themselves freaking out on a direct train ride to Boo Town.
But that’s where the similarity ends.
The Haunting of Hill House is so much more than a horror series. While the first few episodes are scary, it’s the family drama that moves the story forward and keeps the viewer hooked.
When the Crain family moved into Hill House one summer, they did not expect their entire life to be tied to it inexplicably for the rest of their lives.
Mama Crain dies in the house, the children are packed into a car and made to leave in the middle of the night by Papa Crain, and the viewers have to wait till the final episode to find out what exactly happened that summer night.
The trauma of that one summer remains with the children for the rest of their lives and each of them processes it in different ways. The oldest, Steven, doesn’t believe in ghosts, yet profits off of writing a book about the house. Shirley goes into denial. Theo, the middle child with a story that deserves its own spin-off, has a reaction that’s more paranormal. And the youngest, the twins, are the ones most affected by their mother’s mania and subsequent death. Nellie is haunted by an apparition she calls the Bent-Neck Lady, and she’s clinically depressed. Luke gets addicted to heroin and is in and out of rehab.
Despite living there just one summer, Hill House becomes an important part of the 5 children’s adult lives. It’s the house where their mother died. There are so many unanswered questions and the only person who can answer them, their dad, doesn’t.
How they finally find out the truth about Hill House and come to terms with their own trauma forms the rest of the story.
Anyone who’s ever grieved for the death of someone will find this message from the final episode soothing: “There’s no without. I’m not gone. I’m scattered into so many pieces, sprinkled on your life like new snow.”
And as the same character says, about smaller things–disagreements–that don’t matter:
The rest is just confetti.
Verdict: 5 out 5