The Haunting of Hill House: How Drama compliments Horror
A look at the hit Netflix show's unique perfection in blending spine-chilling terror with family drama.
At its core 'The Haunting of Hill House' is a family drama, centred around the lives of the Crain family, with splashes of horror mixed in. Based on Shirley Jacksons gothic-horror novel from 1959, the series goes back and forth between modern-day life and flashbacks to each characters childhood, starting with Steve, the oldest.
The horror mostly lies in the flashbacks, as the adult lives of the characters are riddled with addiction, grief and intimacy issues. It's dramatic and incredibly engaging but horror fans will be more than pleased when the flashbacks roll around every episode and the creepiness dials up to 100. The horror is sometimes familiar, playing off of old haunted house tropes, but the in-depth exploration of the characters and brilliant directing by Mike Flanagan really makes this TV show stand out.
So how does the drama compliment the horror?
First and foremost, what a lot of horror TV shows can't seem to get right is developing a genuine sense of fear and dread. This only comes when the audience is given enough time to to connect with the characters on screen and feel for them. If we don't care for the characters why would we ever feel concerned for them? 'The Haunting of Hill House' takes the time to develop its main characters, giving them an entire episode each that encapsulates key points in their lives. The relationships between the members of the Crain family are well fleshed out and interesting; the siblings are flawed and interact realistically throughout their adult life and childhood.
There's a real sense of maturity with this series due to its focus on drama, that elevates the horror tremendously. It takes the time to build up to the scares (and there's quite a few), instead of throwing in slices of gore and slasher movie shocks. 'The Haunting of Hill House' takes a fresh approach to the horror genre, putting emphasis on the eery atmosphere surrounding the family instead of focusing on cheap jump scares. That slow-burning horror can be hard to pull off so most don’t risk it, but in this incredible series it certainly pays off.
By creating ghosts like the 'Bent-neck lady' the series takes a wholly original approach to characterisation in horror and ultimately gives the whole series a very personal feel. This is a perfect example of how it blends the drama and horror extremely well, exploring our fear of death and how we experience dealing with it amongst our family.
Overall it's the families connection with each other, their shared trauma, that really makes the show leave its mark. The relentless weight of grief drowning the family over the years is brilliantly portrayed through the main characters and the long takes and Stanley Kubrick inspired shots make sure Flanagans directing chops are on full display. The colour scheme is strangely comforting and visually stunning, only adding to the appeal. In expanding on the haunting childhood terrors of nightmares and death that carry on into the characters adult life, the audience is forced to confront their own personal and consistent fears. We all have our demons and this show sure knows how to remind us of that - in the best way possible!
All of these things piled on together makes 'The Haunting of Hill House' much more than, not only the average horror show, but the average TV show out there today. It’s mature, terrifying, dramatic and most importantly, incredibly entertaining. Definitely something worth checking out before committing to the holiday season.
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