Netflix’s The Haunting of Hill House Finds the Beating Heart of Shirley Jackson’s Tale
There’s something about Leah Schnelbach’s reviews that are just so spot on, especially when she’s writing about a movie or series that’s been adapted from a beloved book or short story. It’s like she’s read and seen everything, and is doing our work for us by sorting out the good, the bad, and the unwatchable. As per her rec, I’ll definitely be folding Netflix’s adaption of Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House into my pre-Halloween rotation.
Mike Flanagan’s adaptation of The Haunting of Hill House is easily one of the best things I’ve seen on Netflix. It’s consistently scary and moving, creepy and heartfelt, and creates one of the best, most multi-dimensional views of a family I’ve seen since Six Feet Under.
And as a work of horror, Hill House works because it’s an adaptation. It takes Shirley Jackson’s novel as more of a sketch than a blueprint, and it frees itself to riff on the horror genre as a whole.
The key to Shirley Jackson’s book is that, about halfway through, you start to realize that Eleanor isn’t remotely trustworthy. Neither is Theo—she’s only really come to Hill House to inflict some extended silent treatment on her lover, probably a girlfriend whom she won’t name to the group. Dr. Montague’s kind of a quack hobbyist, using his wife’s money to fund a highly unscientific study. Luke is at least pretty upfront about being an oily thief. And then Mrs. Montague and her probably-boyfriend blow in, shred what’s left of Dr. Montague’s credibility, and snicker about the whole project with the disdainful Mrs. Dudley. Read a certain way, the book is an arch satire about relationships, gender roles, and 1950s-era conformity, but then Eleanor and her intense neediness crash through the whole thing, turning it into a terribly sad story of untreated mental disturbance.
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