Adaptations always are tricky. They can sometimes hit the brunt of the mark – rarely, yes, but it does happen luckily from time to time, and usually with some unavoidable plot-point martyrdom. And sometimes they lie in a somewhere-in-between, existing as a wildly different story with no actual relations to the source material, but yet still managing its decency and enjoyability as whatever it is. But most often, they fall short and beyond, crippling the hopes and dreams of the eager and obsessed reader, butchering each and every semblance of justice-doing that it might have but hinted at – looking at you Dark Tower – and forevermore staining literature’s imaginative minds.
Bit too far with that last? Yeah. Okay.
Fortunately, for The Haunting of Hill House, that isn’t the case.
Director and Writer, Mike Flanagan, has already well established himself in this horror thing we all hold dear, most notably with works such as Hush (which is utterly terrifying and purely nuts), and Gerald’s Game (another spot-on adaptation; stroke of genius). But now with The Haunting of Hill House, he truly achieves something that supersedes them all, which are very big words indeed.
Having not read Shirley Jackson’s original story, I’m afraid that I can’t delve into a comparable expose about the details that’d been paid attention to, or the correctness in the transposition of the characters from the novel to the screen, or even how close it may have gotten to replicating the beat and beat verbatim.
But what I can get my hands on is the specialty and magic that exist within this version.
This isn’t your average, mill-run, horror, gore-porn, torture indulgent flick; this is a sojourn into the psychological. This is truth. Many truths. It’s what lay in the greatest works of fiction, and it’s the reason why so many of us glue steadfastly, binging episode after episode, unable to look elsewhere, yet still worried about those bumps in the night. This showcases the great number of our humanly travails: childhood trauma, mental illness, addiction, obsession, denial, and the ways in which we can and must reconcile the damages done to us at our early ages, lest it linger and attach and never leave. It’s incredible how all of this is shown through the contrast of flashback and present. It’s always been said that you have to feel the being of the characters if you’re gonna spend your times investing your cares and worries – and with this, we really do get to do just that.
The actors couldn’t have been more – well, precise. That’s a strange word, but it’s the right one. Down to the facial features and mannerisms of each character’s child and adult; up to the believability of their individual actions, reactions, and choices. It works. Splendidly. There’s one scene in particular that does a sort of voodoo that I’ve not seen in film – least in execution and intensity – where the family’s rift ramps up into a fully-boiled onslaught of dysfunction, where there are multiple moving parts and nuances and things that have to happen, and it’s all done in a continuous shot that defies previous belief about what’s possible in art, while also simultaneously affirming the fact of the matter that anything and everything is possible in art.
And the scares are a bit more than that – as I’ve said, the truer scares are mostly found within the faltered humanities, which still holds, but even the preternatural haunts serve lives of their own, creating and weaving their own tragic backstories that are of as much importance as any other. These little embellishments don’t detract, but add to the overall picture, seeing as how this isn’t a bucket of jump-scares, but a mental and vivid viewing of a torn family, and their lives, and how they’ve dealt and how they’ll deal.
I won’t detail too much, as to not spoil the surprises for all who are uninitiated to its wonders, but I can say without doubts that it is lauded in my mind, and in my heart. It is an expertly crafted, and acted, and directed blowing of minds. It is raw, and beautiful, and timeless. It’s a newfound classic that I’m sure will be revered for eons to come.
So take a whirl and a dive and swim around in it for a while, for perhaps you might let it inspire you.
It has surely inspired me.
– David Robert Burchell