Skip to main content

So does anyone have another question, not related to Hill House?

The Haunting of Hill House
(2018)

(SPOILERS) Throughout the early episodes of The Haunting of Hill House, I nursed a creeping suspicion that the horror element was really so much window dressing. Partly because Mike Flanagan’s loosest of adaptations of Jane Shirley Jackson’s 1957 novel seemed far more concerned with Lost-esque personal narrative juggling than scares – which were, let’s face it, inserted on a formula basis to keep the thing ticking over. That suspicion seemed to be confirmed with the centre-piece funeral episodes (Six and Seven), where however entwined the familial strife of the Crains was with Hill House, it was much less engrossing that the actual emotional fireworks. And then, the climactic episode served to underline the point, seemingly throwing away any notion of horror in favour of a rather sappy, jaundiced depiction of a house that will actually in some way protect the souls it eats.

To his credit, Flanagan meticulously cast his horror drama, so one thing you couldn’t accuse it of is failing to command the attention. That said, I was mindful that there wasn’t quite enough age difference between Henry Thomas and Timothy Hutton to make the recasting worthwhile (while they’re both good, it might have been more effective just to age down Hutton). But the problem Flanagan creates for himself is spending so long building the house up as an evil edifice that won’t let go of anyone within its clutches that the final turnabout of willing spirit inhabitants doesn’t sit well. It’s like The Exorcist suddenly becoming Ghost in the third act.

It also doesn’t help that he spends ten episodes getting there, which is typical of Netflix, but requires the kind of circularity of ignorance on the part of disbelieving parties that usually benefits from a more truncated movie-size format. Steven and Shirley’s rational rejection of any supernatural explanation for their early experiences eventually becomes a bit tiresome. Additionally, Flanagan ­– curiously, given his horror pedigree as the most reliable of pairs of hands – is good at creating atmosphere but less so providing payoffs.

He’s indebted to the CGI-assisted spook moment (though, to be fair, the Episode Eight car shock is outstanding), creates an Episode Five out of seeing the Game of Thrones Hodor reveal and thinking he’ll have some of that (whether or not it makes any sense), and creates huge anticipation for the Red Room that entirely fizzles in the realisation (the idea of the room itself is quite neat, but he entirely fails to make it translate). Not being familiar with his prior efforts, I did slightly wonder if all this acclaim is actually disguising this generation’s Mick Garris or Steve Miner.

Strangely, for all its luxuriant running time, I also felt elements weren’t necessarily as well explored as they should have been. Most especially the characters of Nell – nice to see original star of the Robert Wise version Russ Tamblyn as her shrink, even if he was underused – and Olivia, by virtue of their being dead pretty early on or off the bat. Nell in particular gets a miserable sodding life, but her spirit is then supposed to be at peace once reunited with mum? And the deal Hugh strikes with the Dudleys, the one that creates the mystery over what precisely happened, just comes across as weak swill (it felt like there was a whole subplot with the Dudleys missing, probably because it would have revealed too much; one of the best scenes had Robert Longstreet’s Horace Dudley recounting how Hill House had adversely affected his wife).

I’ll be interested to see what Flanagan makes of Stephen King’s Doctor Sleep; as a director, he’s assured and very much a safe pair of hands, but on this evidence, as a writer he might be best working in collaboration (notably, the final episode is credited solely to him). And as far as adaptations of The Haunting of Hill House are concerned, while this is leaps and bounds superior to Jan De Bont’s, it’s also very far from up there with Robert Wise’s.


Agree? Disagree? Mildly or vehemently? Let me know in the comments below.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

You're not only wrong. You're wrong at the top of your voice.

Bad Day at Black Rock (1955)
I’ve seen comments suggesting that John Sturges’ thriller hasn’t aged well, which I find rather mystifying. Sure, some of the characterisations border on the cardboard, but the director imbues the story with a taut, economical backbone. 

She was addicted to Tums for a while.

Marriage Story (2019)
(SPOILERS) I don’t tend to fall heavily for Noah Baumbach fare. He’s undoubtedly a distinctive voice – even if his collaborations with Wes Anderson are the least of that director’s efforts – but his devotion to an exclusive, rarefied New York bubble becomes ever more off-putting with each new project. And ever more identifiable as being a lesser chronicler of the city’s privileged quirks than his now disinherited forbear Woody Allen, who at his peak mastered a balancing act between the insightful, hilarious and self-effacing. Marriage Story finds Baumbach going yet again where Woody went before, this time brushing up against the director’s Ingmar Bergman fixation.

She writes Twilight fan fiction.

Vampire Academy (2014)
My willingness to give writer Daniel Waters some slack on the grounds of early glories sometimes pays off (Sex and Death 101) and sometimes, as with this messy and indistinct Young Adult adaptation, it doesn’t. If Vampire Academy plods along as a less than innovative smart-mouthed Buffy rip-off that might be because, if you added vampires to Heathers, you would probably get something not so far from the world of Joss Whedon. Unfortunately inspiration is a low ebb throughout, not helped any by tepid direction from Daniel’s sometimes-reliable brother Mark and a couple of hopelessly plankish leads who do their best to dampen down any wit that occasionally attempts to surface.

I can only presume there’s a never-ending pile of Young Adult fiction poised for big screen failure, all of it comprising multi-novel storylines just begging for a moment in the Sun. Every time an adaptation crashes and burns (and the odds are that they will) another one rises, hydra-like, hoping…

My name is Dr. King Schultz, this is my valet, Django, and these are our horses, Fritz, and Tony.

Django Unchained (2012)
(MINOR SPOILERS) Since the painful misstep of Grindhouse/Death Proof, Quentin Tarantino has regained the higher ground like never before. Pulp Fiction, his previous commercial and critical peak, has been at very least equalled by the back-to-back hits of Inglourious Basterds and Django Unchained. Having been underwhelmed by his post Pulp Fiction efforts (albeit, I admired his technical advances as a director in Kill Bill), I was pleasantly surprised by Inglourious Basterds. It was no work of genius (so not Pulp Fiction) by any means, but there was a gleeful irreverence in its treatment of history and even to the nominal heroic status of its titular protagonists. Tonally, it was a good fit for the director’s “cool” aesthetic. As a purveyor of postmodern pastiche, where the surface level is the subtext, in some ways he was operating at his zenith. Django Unchained is a retreat from that position, the director caught in the tug between his all-important aesthetic pr…

You must find the keys for me!

Doctor Who The Keys of Marinus
Most of the criticisms levelled at The Keys of Marinus over the past 50 years have been fair play, and yet it’s a story I return to as one of the more effortlessly watchable of the Hartnell era. Consequently, the one complaint I can’t really countenance is that it’s boring. While many a foray during this fledgling period drags its heels, even ones of undeniable quality in other areas, Marinus’ shifting soils and weekly adventures-in-miniature sustain interest, however inelegant the actual construction of those narratives may be. The quest premise also makes it a winner; it’s a format I have little resistance to, even when manifested, as here, in an often overtly budget-stricken manner.

Doctor Who has dabbled with the search structure elsewhere, most notably across The Key to Time season, and ultimately Marinus’ mission is even more of a MacGuffin than in that sextology, a means to string together what would otherwise be vignettes to little overall coherence…

Poor Easy Breezy.

Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood (2019)
(SPOILERS) My initial reaction to Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood was mild disbelief that Tarantino managed to hoodwink studios into coming begging to make it, so wilfully perverse is it in disregarding any standard expectations of narrative or plotting. Then I remembered that studios, or studios that aren’t Disney, are desperate for product, and more especially, product that might guarantee them a hit. Quentin’s latest appears to be that, but whether it’s a sufficient one to justify the expense of his absurd vanity project remains to be seen.

You ever heard the saying, “Don’t rob the bank across from the diner that has the best donuts in three counties”?

2 Guns (2013)
(SPOILERS) Denzel Washington is such a reliable performer, that it can get a bit boring. You end up knowing every gesture or inflection in advance, whether he’s playing a good guy or a bad guy. And his films are generally at least half decent, so you end up seeing them. Even in Flight (or perhaps especially in Flight; just watch him chugging down that vodka) where he’s giving it his Oscar-nominatable best, he seems too familiar. I think it may be because he’s an actor who is more effective the less he does. In 2 Guns he’s not doing less, but sometimes it seems like it. That’s because the last person I’d ever expect blows him off the screen; Mark Wahlberg.

So you made contact with the French operative?

Atomic Blonde (2017)
(SPOILERS) Well, I can certainly see why Focus Features opted to change the title from The Coldest City (the name of the graphic novel from which this is adapted). The Coldest City evokes a noirish, dour, subdued tone, a movie of slow-burn intrigue in the vein of John Le Carré. Atomic Blonde, to paraphrase its introductory text, is not that movie. As such, there’s something of a mismatch here, of the kind of Cold War tale it has its roots in and the furious, pop-soaked action spectacle director David Leitch is intent on turning it into. In the main, his choices succeed, but the result isn’t quite the clean getaway of his earlier (co-directed) John Wick.

I take Quaaludes 10-15 times a day for my "back pain", Adderall to stay focused, Xanax to take the edge off, part to mellow me out, cocaine to wake me back up again, and morphine... Well, because it's awesome.

The Wolf of Wall Street (2013)
Along with Pain & Gain and The Great Gatsby, The Wolf of Wall Street might be viewed as the completion of a loose 2013 trilogy on the subject of success and excess; the American Dream gone awry. It’s the superior picture to its fellows, by turns enthralling, absurd, outrageous and hilarious. This is the fieriest, most deliriously vibrant picture from the director since the millennium turned. Nevertheless, stood in the company of Goodfellas, the Martin Scorsese film from which The Wolf of Wall Street consciously takes many of its cues, it is found wanting.

I was vaguely familiar with the title, not because I knew much about Jordan Belfort but because the script had been in development for such a long time (Ridley Scott was attached at one time). So part of the pleasure of the film is discovering how widely the story diverges from the Wall Street template. “The Wolf of Wall Street” suggests one who towers over the city like a behemoth, rather than a guy …

It always seems a bit abstract, doesn’t it? Other people dying.

Game of Thrones Season Six
(SPOILERS) The most distracting thing about Season Six of Game of Thrones (and I’ve begun writing this at the end of the seventh episode, The Broken Man) is how breakneck its pace is, and how worryingly – only relatively, mind – upbeat it’s become. Suddenly, characters are meeting and joining forces, not necessarily mired in pits of despair but actually moving towards positive, attainable goals, even if those goals are ultimately doomed (depending on the party concerned). It feels, in a sense, that liberated from George R R Martin’s text, producers are going full-throttle, and you half-wonder if they’re using up too much plot and revelation too quickly, and will run out before the next two seasons are up. Then, I’m naturally wary of these things, well remembering how Babylon 5 suffered from packing all its goods into Season Four and was then given an ultimately wasted final season reprieve.

I’ve started this paragraph at the end of the eighth episode, No One (t…