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Blu-ray Review: The Haunting of Hill House

October 31, 2019

By John Corrado

It was a hit on Netflix, and now director Mike Flanagan’s ten-part dramatic horror series The Haunting of Hill House is available to own on Blu-ray in a 3-disc set that includes extended versions of several episodes.

The series follows the Crain family, jumping back and forth between past and present to show both the horrors that five siblings experienced as children growing up in the haunted Hill House, and how these experiences continue to affect them as adults as they struggle with addiction, relationship problems and supernatural visions that still won’t leave them alone.

As children, Steven (Paxton Singleton), Shirley (Lulu Wilson), Theo (McKenna Grace), and twins Luke (Julian Hilliard) and Nell (Violet McGraw), moved into an old house for the summer, and watched as their mother Olivia (Carla Gugino) slowly unraveled and started to lose her mind as their father Hugh (Henry Thomas) struggled to keep the family together.

As adults, Steven (Michiel Huisman) is a horror writer who turned his traumatic childhood experiences into a bestselling book, Shirley (Elizabeth Reaser) runs a funeral home, Theo (Kate Siegel) is now a child psychologist who uses her supernatural gifts to help others, Luke (Oliver Jackson-Cohen) is a heroin addict, and Nell (Victoria Pedretti) is struggling with depression. The show moves at a deliberate pace, devoting the first five episodes to each of the different siblings before bringing them together under tragic circumstances, and reuniting them with their now-estranged father (Timothy Hutton).

There was a lot of hype surrounding The Haunting of Hill House, which was inspired by Shirley Jackson’s classic 1959 novel of the same name, when it was released on Netflix around this time last year, including reports of people passing out and getting sick while watching it, and I can’t help but feel like the show has been a bit overhyped. Yes, there are some shocking images and the show explores a lot of disturbing themes, but for my money, it’s often more unsettling than it is scary, and at times it feels more like a melodramatic soap opera with horror overtones.

I had heard a lot of great things about The Haunting of Hill House before watching it, so my excitement was pretty high. I think the fact that it was overhyped is partially why I ultimately wasn’t as taken with it as others have been. While the ten episode running time allows the writers to delve deep into each of the characters individually, the show also drags quite a bit, and it gets bogged down by multiple lengthy monologues that can feel downright self-indulgent. Several beats of the plot also feel clichéd.

The narrative structure is interesting at times, criss-crossing back and forth between different points in time, and showing the same events from different perspectives. This abstract approach ultimately works against it though in the last episode, Silence Lay Steadily, which is somewhat of a mess. The production design is solid, and the show is also technically well made and at times flashy in its assembly, sometimes too much so. Episode 3, Touch, features more match cuts than you can count to the point where they become distracting, and episode 6, Two Storms, unfolds through several extended sequences that are stitched together to look like single takes, an illusion that is broken every time there is an obvious cut.

I would ultimately say that The Haunting of Hill House is is more of a slow burn family drama than it is straight up horror, more about the after effects of living in a haunted house than it is about the haunting itself, and this approach will likely work better for some than it will for others. There are some elements of the show that do deserve admiration on a technical level, and at times it is fairly engaging to watch, featuring a handful of jump scares and a few moments that do get under our skin, but it also left me cold and wondering what all the fuss was about. So unless you are already a fan of it, you can probably just stream it on Netflix instead of purchasing the Blu-ray set.

The Blu-ray includes extended director’s cuts of the episodes Steven Sees a Ghost, The Bent-Neck Lady and Silence Lay Steadily, which also feature optional commentary tracks by Mike Flanagan. There is additionally a commentary track by Flanagan on the episode Two Storms.

The Haunting of Hill House is a Paramount Home Media Distribution release. It’s approximately 569 minutes and rated 14A.

Street Date: October 15th, 2019

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