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

We live in a twilight world.

Tenet (2020)
(SPOILERS) I’ve endured a fair few confusingly-executed action sequences in movies – more than enough, actually – but I don’t think I’ve previously had the odd experience of being on the edge of my seat during one while simultaneously failing to understand its objectives and how those objectives are being attempted. Which happened a few times during Tenet. If I stroll over to the Wiki page and read the plot synopsis, it is fairly explicable (fairly) but as a first dive into this Christopher Nolan film, I frequently found it, if not impenetrable, then most definitely opaque.

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.

You can’t climb a ladder, no. But you can skip like a goat into a bar.

Juno and the Paycock (1930)
(SPOILERS) Hitchcock’s second sound feature. Such was the lustre of this technological advance that a wordy play was picked. By Sean O’Casey, upon whom Hitchcock based the prophet of doom at the end of The Birds. Juno and the Paycock, set in 1922 during the Irish Civil War, begins as a broad comedy of domestic manners, but by the end has descended into full-blown Greek (or Catholic) tragedy. As such, it’s an uneven but still watchable affair, even if Hitch does nothing to disguise its stage origins.

Anything can happen in Little Storping. Anything at all.

The Avengers 2.22: Murdersville
Brian Clemens' witty take on village life gone bad is one of the highlights of the fifth season. Inspired by Bad Day at Black Rock, one wonders how much Murdersville's premise of unsettling impulses lurking beneath an idyllic surface were set to influence both Straw Dogs and The Wicker Mana few years later (one could also suggest it premeditates the brand of backwoods horrors soon to be found in American cinema from the likes of Wes Craven and Tobe Hooper).

I mean, I am just a dumb bunny, but, we are good at multiplying.

Zootropolis (2016)
(SPOILERS) The key to Zootropolis’ creative success isn’t so much the conceit of its much-vaunted allegory regarding prejudice and equality, or – conversely – the fun to be had riffing on animal stereotypes (simultaneously clever and obvious), or even the appealing central duo voiced by Ginnifier Goodwin (as first rabbit cop Judy Hopps) and Jason Bateman (fox hustler Nick Wilde). Rather, it’s coming armed with that rarity for an animation; a well-sustained plot that doesn’t devolve into overblown set pieces or rest on the easy laurels of musical numbers and montages.

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…

He tasks me. He tasks me, and I shall have him.

Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan
(1982)
(SPOILERS) I don’t love Star Trek, but I do love Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. That probably isn’t just me, but a common refrain of many a non-devotee of the series. Although, it used to apply to The Voyage Home (the funny one, with the whales, the Star Trek even the target audience for Three Men and a Baby could enjoy). Unfortunately, its high regard has also become the desperate, self-destructive, song-and-verse, be-all-and-end-all of the overlords of the franchise itself, in whichever iteration, it seems. This is understandable to an extent, as Khan is that rare movie sequel made to transcendent effect on almost every level, and one that stands the test of time every bit as well (better, even) as when it was first unveiled.

Old Boggy walks on Lammas Eve.

Jeeves and Wooster 2.5: Kidnapped  (aka The Mysterious Stranger)
Kidnapped continues the saga of Chuffnell Hall. Having said of 2.4 that the best Wodehouse adaptations tend to stick closely to the text, this one is an exception that proves the rule, diverging significantly yet still scoring with its highly preposterous additions.

Jeeves: Tis old boggy. He be abroad tonight. He be heading for the railway station.
Gone are many of the imbroglios involving Stoker and Glossop (the estimable Roger Brierley), including the contesting of the former’s uncle’s will. Also gone, sadly, is the inebriated Brinkley throwing potatoes at Stoker, which surely would have been enormous fun. Instead, we concentrate on Bertie being locked aboard Stoker’s yacht in order to secure his marriage to Pauline (as per the novel), Chuffy tailing Pauline in disguise (so there’s a different/additional reason for Stoker to believe Bertie and she spent the night together, this time at a pub en route to Chufnell Hall) and …

Do you read Sutter Cane?

In the Mouth of Madness (1994)
(SPOILERS) The concluding chapter of John Carpenter’s unofficial Apocalypse Trilogy (preceded by The Thing and Prince of Darkness) is also, sadly, his last great movie. Indeed, it stands apart in the qualitative wilderness that beset him during the ‘90s (not for want of output). Michael De Luca’s screenplay had been doing the rounds since the ‘80s, even turned down by Carpenter at one point, and it proves ideal fodder for the director, bringing out the best in him. Even cinematographer Gary K Kibbe seems inspired enough to rise to the occasion. It could do without the chugging rawk soundtrack, perhaps, but then, that was increasingly where Carpenter’s interests resided (as opposed to making decent movies).

I think World War II was my favourite war.

Small Soldiers (1998)
An off-peak Joe Dante movie is still one chock-a-block full of satirical nuggets and comic inspiration, far beyond the facility of most filmmakers. Small Soldiers finds him back after a six-year big screen absence, taking delirious swipes at the veneration of the military, war movies, the toy industry, conglomerates and privatised defence forces. Dante’s take is so gleefully skewed, he even has big business win! The only problem with the picture (aside from an indistinct lead, surprising from a director with a strong track record for casting juveniles) is that this is all very familiar.

Dante acknowledged Small Soldiers was basically a riff on Gremlins, and it is. Something innocuous and playful turns mad, bad and dangerous. On one level it has something in common with Gremlins 2: The New Batch, in that the asides carry the picture. But Gremlins 2 was all about the asides, happy to wander off in any direction that suited it oblivious to whether the audience was on …