At the time of this writing, the Netflix miniseries The Haunting of Hill House carries an 8.8 rating on IMDB. It’s a ten-episode adaptation of Shirley Jackson’s novel of the same name, and tells the story of a family who moves into Hill House to flip it, finds ghosts inside, and is traumatized for decades afterward. Critics called it “essential viewing,” “often stunning,” and a “non-stop thrill ride.”
Like the horror film Get Out, I can’t help but wonder what Hill House‘s fans actually watched, because what I saw was horrible, tedious trash filled with every narrative cliche imaginable.
The performances were unremarkable, but the speechifying from just about every character was notable for its appalling self-indulgence. Once, twice, or more per episode, one character or another would just launch into a bland, affect-less speech that ate up time in a presentation that was six hours longer than it needed to be. You could walk the dog, wash your hands, and grab a fudgsicle from the freezer and still not miss anything during those endless speeches. They just went on and on and on.
What didn’t help was that every one of the characters was entirely unlikable. Substituting bickering for conflict, they sniped at each other endlessly, making them generally unpleasant to watch. Hugh Crain as the patriarch was an ineffectual buffoon, played with all the intensity of a doorknob by both Henry Thomas and Timothy Hutton (who tried to put me out of a job once; I’ll tell you about that some day). Carla Gugino as his wife Olivia pranced about the house in robes and wedges, too substantial to be fragile, too irritating to be tragic. The other characters, their children, filled their roles exactly the way they were written: unable to evoke even the slightest pathos.
Thematically, it follows today’s standard horror trope of Us vs. Them, not Good vs. Evil. The protagonists were motivated by survival rather than moral imperative, and the antagonists weren’t all evil: they’re just eking out undead existences in a haunted house. Christianity is specifically derided as being of no more importance than Buddhism. There’s no God, there’s no Devil, there’s just people and ghosts. Despite that the story’s about the spirits of dead people annoying/haunting/killing the living, the idea of an afterlife isn’t addressed. And, most importantly, there’s no reason given for anything that happens in the movie. Why is the house haunted? I don’t know. Why does anyone who dies in the house haunt it? Got me. Why couldn’t any of the characters do the right and moral thing by having the house torn down? Because ghosts, that’s why. Enjoy the show. There’s lesbians in it. And family drama.
I’d be tempted to write off the massive wave of love for this waste of time as paid studio shills, but I’ve seen enough people rave about it on social media to convince me that the appreciation for The Haunting of Hill House is genuine. Which is unfortunate, because it shows that the gap between garbage and quality has become so wide that it’s pretty damned difficult to accept media recommendations anymore.