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The Haunting of Hill House


Suspenseful, creepy beyond measure, intelligent and flawlessly executed, THE HAUNTING OF HILL HOUSE is a time bending masterpiece.

Based on Shirley Jackson’s classic novel of the same name, it’s a modern retelling, with fleshed out characters and back-story that fills every minute of its ten episode running time with intrigue.

The story moves back and forth fluidly in time between the characters, first introducing us to them as they move into what would become the most famous haunted house in America. Their father Hugh Crain (Henry Thomas from “ET” in the past and Timothy Hutton of “Falcon and the Snowman” in the present) has moved his family into the ultimate spruce up and turn project.

But the sprawling house isn’t necessarily in the mode to be flipped.

Olivia Crain (Carla Gugino) is their architect mother. She’s brilliant, but seems to be overwhelmed by the house. She’s not the only one seeing things.

Young Steven (Paxton Singleton) is the oldest of the kids, constantly at his father’s side for the remodel. He grows up to be an author made famous by his horror filled account of the Crain families escape from the mansion. Michiel Huisman is excellent as adult Steven.

Young Nell and her twin brother Luke are the first kids to see ghosts. The bent-neck lady’s nightly visits are terrifying.

Oldest daughter Shirley seems to have been born 30, living events that turn her into a short tempered, on-edge control freak with little patience and a long memory.

Their sister Theo is the most perceptive of the children, growing up to be a beautiful therapist who wont touch anyone without her gloves on. For good reason.

Her sister Nell is the catalyst that brings the entire family together again as adults. But death is never a joyous reason to reconnect, especially in the funeral home that Shirley and her husband now run.

Writer/Director Mike Flanagan delivered one of my favorite horror films of recent years with his adult, brutally unfiltered and emotionally resonant Stephen King film adaption “Doctor Sleep”. He brings the same power here, but with a much longer, ten-hour timeframe to reveal his story, the characters become real people and the family dynamics are always flowing at full current just below the ghost story.

I hate funeral homes. Always have. Flanagan made me move through one for many hours here, exploring the corners and basements that I wanted no part of. Episode Six, “Two Storms” is like a horror version of last year’s “1917” with a camera that never stops moving during a very stormy night and an open casket viewing.

Flanagan knows what scares you. And as his camera very slowly pans left and right as it swirls fluidly around the family, ghosts are present. Decomposing, solemn spirits stand quietly just behind you, or perhaps across the room. For over an hour, thunder booms and encircles you in Dolby Atmos rumbling as the camera moves forward, forcing you to look where you don’t want to go.

It’s incredibly well done and appears to be in one very long take, a testament to great writing and a superb cast that hits every mark, often with their younger selves suddenly appearing as haunted memories for the adults. It’s one of the best hours of horror I’ve ever seen. The longest uninterrupted camera shot is over 17 minutes. The cast and crew practiced for over six weeks to deliver what you see on screen.

Alcoholism, family jealousy, drug addiction, parenthood and sibling relationships are all deeply explored in a blender with psychic ability, vindictive spirits and apparitions and violent poltergeists who don’t mind banging the hell out of the wall just behind your head.

A dumb waiter ride into a basement; silent ghosts that lurk by your bed; spirits that don’t pass gently into the night….they’re all here and perfectly done.

I haven’t been this creeped out since “Hereditary” and that only lasted two hours.

The cast is excellent. Thomas and Hutton are both terrific as Hugh Crain. Kate Siegel (Hush) is a standout as Theo and Elizabeth Reaser is excellent as Shirley. Her self-righteous thunder is so palpable I thought she was going to come off the screen and slap me for even being in the same room.

The brilliance of Flanagan’s vision is that you DO feel like you’re in the same room as these people, and that’s often a terrifying place to be. Flanagan has said that the Crain children represent the five stages of grief: Denial (Steven), Anger (Shirley), Bargaining (Theo), Depression (Luke) and Acceptance (Nell).

You’ll live through every stage with them. Watch this one with the lights out and the sound up.

THE HAUNTING OF HILL HOUSE gets an A+.

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