‘The Haunting of Hill House’ debuts with promising season

Noah Thornburgh

Netflix Original series “The Haunting of Hill House” released its 10-episode run on Oct. 12, 2018, doubling down on both fall binge season and Halloween. Through extensive flashbacks and perspective shifts, the series explores the traumatic effects of the Crain family’s childhood stay in a haunted mansion on the adult lives of five children and their father.

Starting with 2013’s “House of Cards,” Netflix Originals have consistently had high production values and emphasize detail, and “Haunting” is no different. The set design is immaculate as the mansion’s intricate decorations leave room for cinematographic play. Director Mike Flanagan’s subtle saturation and lighting techniques take advantage of the set’s ability to be both a vibrant daytime palace, filled with gorgeous Greek statues and sunlight and a “Shining”-esque terror retreat.

Flanagan’s script places a heavy burden on the cast to display the pervasive horrors of the house in the adult lives of the Crain family. Oliver Jackson-Cohen and Victoria Pedretti, who play twins Luke and Nellie, succeed as the most paranormally affected of the five children. Luke’s drug addiction and Nellie’s depression are the intricately written focal points of the show, around which the rest of the family’s arcs orbit.

The show relies on monologues to relay characters’ inner turmoil, often slowing down the already long episodes with melodramatic speeches. Paired with ineffective music cues, the screenplay is occasionally jarringly incohesive in between brief moments of stellar horror, detracting from the otherwise absorbing plot.

It is in these horror sequences the show deserves praise for its versatility. Slow, tense builds of tension that knot up the neck-and-shoulder muscles are the cornerstone of the show, but there is no lack of well-placed jumps. The mansion’s design plays off Flanagan’s long takes, as the camera terrifyingly follows the perspective of one of the Crain’s as they peer around claustrophobic corridors or open up foreboding doors. The observant watcher will be rewarded with several background haunts as the camera slowly pans across rooms.

The show is a frightfest. The child cast deserves special mention as their portrayals of terror in the throws of Hill House leave no room to doubt the trauma the adult counterparts display. Carla Gugino, the mother Crain, steals the show as her chilling anxieties lead her further into madness.

Maybe there was more in the script lost among the jumps and monologues. Eldest Crain child Steven often mentions signs of mental illness throughout the family, but leaves this avenue largely unexplored. The closest the show gets is during the 70-minute finale, although the character explorations are left to overwrought soliloquies. What hinted at being a fascinating psychoanalytically-framed suspense is instead a perfectly thrilling and engaging horror tale. Not to say it isn’t worth the watch or – more likely – post-Halloween weekend binge; “Haunting” is another solid addition to the Netflix Original queue.