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The Haunting of Hill House
A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this TV show.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that The Haunting of Hill House is a tense, eerie ghost story crossed with an affecting (and very mature) family drama. Though it draws inspiration from Shirley Jackson's excellent 1959 novel of the same name, the 10-episode horror series has very little in common with the source material plot-wise; it's used merely as a jumping-off point. The series touches on issues like addiction, trauma, and mental illness, and there's a sad storyline relating to baby animals that some may find upsetting. Suicide is a running theme, and a person is shown hanging themselves. There are a couple of brief sex scenes; women are seen in lingerie but not fully nude. One character is a mortician, which means there are several shots involving dead bodies being cut open and processed. Heroin addiction is depicted, with scenes of shooting up and overdosing. Adult characters swear, smoke, and drink, often to excess. Though not as consistently gory as some modern horror series and films, there are plenty of truly chilling scares and disturbing imagery that could cause nightmares for kids both young and old.
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What's the story?
THE HAUNTING OF HILL HOUSE centers on the Crain family, headed up by architect mom Olivia (Carla Gugino) and handyman dad Hugh (Henry Thomas), who support their family by rehabbing and selling old houses and hope the quick flip of the titular manse will bring in enough money to fund the building of their own future "Forever House". Their five kids -- practical Steven (Paxton Singleton), intense Shirley (Lulu Wilson), intuitive Theo (McKenna Grace), and the impressionable twins Nell (Violet McGraw) and Luke (Julian Hilliard) -- aren't all so sure about the place, seeing as several of them are beset by ghoulish specters and disturbing dreams from the moment they step foot in the place. The series uses a dual timeline format to expose the deeply traumatic events that went down in Hill House back in the day and examine how it has affected their lives twenty years later when the family is reunited by tragedy and called back to the house that started it all.
Is it any good?
It may have little to do with the source material barring some borrowed names and the whole malevolent house concept, but taken as its own entity, it’s pretty great. Even better, it's genuinely scary. The Haunting of Hill House has been adapted before in film, to varying levels of success -- the 1963 version was subtly unsettling, while the 1999 remake was a CGI-overloaded mess -- and both times the story focused on paranormal investigations happening in a haunted house. This time filmmaker Mike Flanagan (Gerald's Game, Oculus) uses the episodic format to great effect and is able to take his time giving each character a real personality and backstory. Some may find the slow burn of this series a little too slow, but the pacing really gives you a chance to appreciate and care for the family -- they're not just human chess pieces there to propel one jump scare after the next in yet another haunted house story.
The cast is uniformly excellent, with the child actors perfectly mirroring their adult counterparts: Michiel Huisman as Steven, Elizabeth Reaser as Shirley, Kate Siegel as Theo, Victoria Pedretti as Nell and Oliver Jackson-Cohen as Luke. (The casting of Henry Thomas as young Hugh and Timothy Hutton as old Hugh is a little odd, seeing as the actors are only 11 years apart in real life, but it somehow works.) You really feel the connections between the siblings, their chemistry feels real -- which only makes the various catastrophes they experience all the more heartbreaking and affecting. The series explores family dynamics and the long-reaching effects of trauma in a way that helps balance the more gothic set pieces (which are stunning) and fills you with actual dread. Some moments will have you reaching for a handkerchief, while others will have you screaming and sleeping with a nightlight. While not without flaws, this is overall a very solid production and a truly binge-worthy choice for fans of horror and suspense.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the way The Haunting of Hill House is creepy, but not excessively gory -- especially in comparison to many modern day horror offerings. How does it manage to be so frightening without being graphic? What methods to the filmmakers use to set the tone?
Why are movies about ghosts and haunted house so enduringly popular? What is the appeal for audiences in being scared?
Was the Crain family likable? Did any characters stand out to you as particularly relatable or sympathetic? What did you think about the way the various family members handled what happens in Hill House -- and what would you do if you were in their shoes?