It’s no secret that I am not a big fan of Halloween. Dressing up is fun, so is going to themed parties. But that’s about where the excitement ends for me. I don’t enjoy being scared and thus, I stay far away from horror movies, slasher films and found footage of murderous clowns. I’m frightened enough of being alone in the dark as it is, I don’t need to willingly torture myself psychologically on top of that.
Usually, the only spooky indulgence I let myself have are really stupid ‘scary’ films and tv shows so ridiculous, they become comedies. Like Dead Before Dawn or Burying the Ex, to name a few hilarious ones (even if Rotten Tomatoes seems to disagree).
However, bordeom wins over fright any time. So what did I do during this year’s spooky season when I had already exhausted all my other televisory options? I watched The Haunting at Hill House. Viki had mentioned it in passing and I thought, fine. I’ll give it a go.
The following text will contain spoilers for the entire show. You have been warned.
Episode one was marginally interesting and not particularly scary. So I kept watching because, like I said, I was bored and had nothing better to do. Unfortunately, my opinion of the show didn’t change for the better. What at first looked to be a heart-pounding gothic horror rollercoaster ride, fizzled out fairly quickly so that Victoria Pedretti‘s portrayals of sleep paralysis became the only truly terror-inducing moments.
There were certainly positive aspects to it: Some of the performances weren’t half bad and the non-linear structure gave the show a bit of spice. Plus I’m always happy to see Timothy Hutton (I had one hell of a Leverage phase not too long ago). On the flipside, the constantly washed out colors, the truly bland characters and lack of excitement in the show’s horror made it a rather dull affair.
For a story that is supposed to instill fright in its audience, there was zero pay-off in the horror. Yes, we see a variety of spooky ghosts and supernatural occurences, but (almost) none of them have any concequence. The walls shake. A person disappears and then stands in a different corridor. A gost finds Luke under the bed and looks at him. All of these things happen but that’s it. The show just cuts to the next scene or moves on to the next plot point. And any an all scares become insignificant, especially when the show continues to portray so few ramifications. The ghosts become nothing more than a nuissance after a while and I’m genuinely disappointed that the characters don’t treat them as such after a while.
What especially irked me was how illogically the Crain family members interacted. While Carla Gugino has been applauded for her performance as the mother-gone-psycho, the character and her decisions make no sense. About half-way through the show, it is revealed that she has clairvoyant abilities and sees ghosts. Yet, she continues to tell her youngest children, Nell and Luke, that what they see – namely those same ghosts and creatures roaming the house at night – are nothing but nightmares and figments of their childish imaginations. As a matter of fact, all children (save for Steve) are being terrorized at some point by the house’s evil spirits. They scream, cry, worry and are deadly afraid. One might attribute the dad’s “don’t fret, it’s just the wind” approach to his lack of psychic ability – although, even so, he should have enough common sense to take his children out of such a frightening and obviously psychologically scarring environment. But the mother, who knows (to a degree) what her kids are going through, might have done well with just an inkling of sound judgement. Especially before she ventures so far to the evil side of her own mind that reality and imagination begin to blend together.
To a lesser degree, the same can be said about the older sisters Shirley and Theodora. Even when we allow for a bit more leeway while they were children and might have had trouble understanding what they saw and experienced in Hill House, they equally treated adult Nell like a ridiculous, overly dramatic spinster. “Everything’s a big deal with Nell.” Oh, no kidding?! If she truly didn’t see ghosts, at the very least she’s mentally ill and her whole family seems to not even give two shits.
Tv shows and movies that present such two-dimensional, paper-thin characters make it very difficult for me to care. Which is probably why I stopped paying attention half-way through the last episode. It should have been a nail-biter of a finale. Instead we’re plagued with more unnecessary flashbacks and alternate-universe-memories. Those are all conjured up by some random ghost lady who has basically no backstory and even less motivation to torment the Crain family. Not even a Joker-esque penchant for chaos. She’s a plot device and even that is giving her too much reason to exist.
From what I have heard, the book, on which the Netflix show is based, delivers intriguing, disturbing and actually enjoyable content. There is no unnecessary filler side-plot of unrequited romance or high-horse morality about monetizing one’s experiences – nobody needed any of that and it did nothing to flesh out the characters. Instead they just became more insufferable.
It’s a 2/10, so don’t waste your time. Especially now that Halloween is over and we can focus on procrastinating with the aid of horrifically cheesy Christmas movies!