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Movies The O.D. on Movies

The O.D. on Movies: The Haunting on Hill House

Rulerofowls and Couchowl have both been enjoying the hell out of “The Haunting on Hill House”–the new Netflix series directed by Mike Flanagan of Oculus, Ouija: Origin of Evil, and Gerald’s Game fame–and after finishing the series this past week, have taken the time to reflect and discuss the series’ strengths and what they found to be most enjoyable about Flanagan’s latest offering.

  • ROW: Just to get everyone on the same page, let’s give the readers the “elevator pitch” for Netflix’s “The Haunting on Hill House”.
  • CO: Sure; it’s the story of a family growing up in a haunted house, how it affected their lives and characters, and the need to deal with the evil that plagues the house, as well as finding out what happened during their last, fateful night in the house where their mum committed suicide.
  • ROW: I know that sounds pretty stock standard haunted house plot, but it is anything but stock standard; we’ll try to keep the discussion spoiler-free and we’ll tag potential spoilers, but be warned if you are sensitive to spoilers.
  • CO: Especially because the first half of what we want to discuss is about the writing of the story, the characters, the themes, and messages it tries to convey…
  • ROW: Which is a weird thing to praise for a horror offering and why I was very skeptical about watching a horror TV show; besides maybe “The Shining” and “The Babadook”, most of horror media is not especially interested with their stories and even these previous examples have more defined characters and better explored themes in comparison to other horror media specifically. But, “The Haunting on Hill House” is equally a riveting character drama, as well as a horror show; it manages to craft complex, compelling, and sympathetic characters, be a deep, poignant drama about mental illness–growing up with it and around it–and dealing with being haunted by something…
  • CO: Haunted in the everyday term though; like being haunted by the fact that you never said goodbye to someone when you had the chance. This show does have paranormal creatures and happenings, jump scares, scary names for creepy entities, but I know they are not literal creatures; they are more like personifications or representations or analogies of different things.
  • ROW: And the story, characters, and visuals reflect this: The surviving members of the family have dealt with the haunting in different ways, some have withdrawn from others to “protect” them, others have profited from it, some try to fix it by becoming psychiatrists or try to mend the pain of the victims with “fixing” the dead for their funerals, others have fallen to the lure of drugs. I love the fact that the show does not blame or pick solutions; the show just explores what these traits for each character and the people around them. The skeptic does seem like a shitty contrarian at first until you learn why he does not want to believe; the junkie seems like a dirtbag, until you see his side, etc, etc.

  • CO: Same thing with the paranormal, scary scenes: They are there to present a visual representation of the characters attached to those scenes and events. Flanagan stroke a perfect balance between making an entertaining horror show and a binge-worthy TV drama whose story challenges and satisfies its audience.
  • ROW: I want to stand on this point for a little bit, because I’ve seen criticism for they show that blames it for being all set up and talking with no actual scares: This is partly true. If you don’t like slow-building tension, purposeful story-telling, or a horror show that does not aim to STARTLE you but FRIGHTEN you, then this is not your type of show; to be clear that’s not an attack on your personal tastes, just a clarification of the type of experience Hill House actually aims for…
  • CO: But, also this is a pretty scary, freaking show!
  • ROW: Yes, and that is why Mike Flanagan is one of my favorite, active directors today; his method of scaring you is not by having loud violins that mimic babies crying, or have false jump scares–like a cat jumping on a window or a truck showing up out of nowhere. Instead, he is very confident in his creative team–his prop designers, set designers, lighting, and editing crew–to be able to present something that given the needed context and necessary effort will be scary on its own…
  • CO: Which is why you have continuous shots or tension building through dialogue and subtle camera movement that have the scares in them without needing to be all about them: For example, there’s a scene with Luke on the streets that gave me goosebumps because of how awesome the directing of the shot was, and scared the shit out of me because of how real and personal it felt.
  • ROW: It’s because of that attention to detail and hard work that jump scares like a specific car scene one, not only don’t feel cheap but also feel earned and scarier than watching “Attack on Titans” while on meth!
  • CO: To be clear though, this isn’t a “perfect” offering: Some episodes have been weaker than others, it requires commitment and patience (although I think it earns it), the final episode is such a different thing that it feels disjointed from the rest of the season and does not deliver what it wants to as well as the rest of the show, and the whole concept is not something new or groundbreaking; it won’t be a hit with everybody, but it was for us.
  • ROW: Moreover, this show proves to me that horror can be a creatively fresh, artistically satisfying, and entertaining genre for any medium (even TV), and people SHOULD demand more from horror movies, shows, and games beyond jump scares and superficial entertainment.
  • CO: I’m just excited to see what’s next from Flanagan! He blew my mind when his prequel to one of the worst horror movies I’ve seen was not only awesome, but one of the best movies of that year, and he does it again with one of the best shows in Netflix being his own horror creation; I simply can’t wait to see what’s next from him!

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