Extend Your Stay at THE HAUNTING OF HILL HOUSE [Blu Review]

One of the best TV events of the past few years comes to Blu-ray

The haunted house is a staple of horror. Even without a supernatural element, an old structure, a unknown past, trauma, and misdeeds baked into the walls, creaky floorboards and shadows combine with imagination to fuel wild ideas about what unfolded the the rooms and corners of a building. Add in real unnatural occurrences, and you can open up a plethora of storytelling opportunities.

Writer/director Mike Flanagan (Oculus, Ouija: Origin of Evil) takes the basic sketch of Shirley Jackson’s original 1959 novel and reimagines its original premise, that of paranormal investigators looking to prove the existence of ghosts, with something far more intimate and affecting. It’s a tale of a family, devastated and divided by a traumatic loss within the walls of a cursed manor house. Their lives are forever tinged by the incident, shaping the adults they become, whereupon they are forced to return and confront what once tore them apart. Juxtaposing the past and present, Flanagan renders a rich and nuanced tale where family drama collides with heartbreaking horror.

Back in the early ‘90s, designers Hugh (Timothy Hutton) and Olivia (Carla Gugino) Crain gather up their five kids, Steven (Paxton Singleton), Shirley (Lulu Wilson), Luke (Julian Hilliard), Theo (Mckenna Grace), and Nell (Violet McGraw) for a move. The intent is to take up residence at Hill House, a neglected estate, with plans to renovate, flip, and use the proceeds to build the long planned dream home for the family. While their work begins, and the children explore their new surroundings, the mental illness that has long plagued Olivia resurfaces, the house triggering and exacerbating her condition. The children are also tormented by unusual encounters that most agree are the result of far more than an overactive imagination. It all comes to a head with Olivia taking her own life and the family leaving the house heartbroken and forever scarred.

Years later, the Crains find that their pain has affected their path. Each is dealing with the loss of their mother, as well as what they saw (or refuse to accept they saw) in the house. Stephen (Michael Huisman)is now an author, having written about their experiences and alienating his siblings. Shirley (Elizabeth Reaser) has adopted the mother figure role and also pursued a career as a mortician, forever immersed in death. Theo (Kate Siegel) struggles with intimacy, largely from a psychic empathy inherited from her mother, but uses her gifts as a child psychologist.The twins Luke (Oliver Jackson-Cohen) and Nell (Victoria Pedretti) seem to have come off the worst, the youngest bearing the brunt of their mother’s condition, with the former endlessly struggling with drug addiction, while Nell is tormented by sleep paralysis and a deep psychosis. Their father (Timothy Hutton) mourns his lost wife and the loss of connection with his children. This fragmented family unit ends up being pulled back together after yet another tragic incident that occurs at the Hill House.

A ghost can be a lot of things, a memory, a daydream, a secret. Grief, anger, guilt. Most times, a ghost is a wish.

Flanagan’s effort is teeming with ghosts, both literal and metaphorical. There’s an exploration of mental illness and addiction, notably within the dynamics of a family unit. The Crain kids all embody some various aspects of grief, each realized with some gut wrenching, nuanced performances from the superb cast. All are reckoning with their own inheritance of trauma, the divisions between them, and ultimately a path of healing and growth that gives the show a cathartic denouement, albeit forever tinged by tragedy. Mike Flanagan has previously shown his knack for telling tales of being exposed and vulnerable (Hush and Gerald’s Game), not to mention the trauma children can carry into adulthood (Ouija). But his work here is on another level. The episodic nature allows him to afford breathing room to the story and characters. It’s never indulgent nor does it flag; every minute adds richness or purpose. He deftly straddles two eras, leaping back and forth from the past to the present, juxtaposing moments for maximum emotional impact, then expertly weaving their tales together. Beyond the narrative, the show is impressively constructed, a long one-take sequence in Two Storms being a standout jaw dropper, along with some delectable production design and genuinely unnerving work in terms of conception and execution of some of the supernatural elements. Despite deftly juggling so much, Flanagan never loses his focus on these characters and their fragmentation, and the journey back to where it all began. Hill House isn’t just about scares, but the long lasting effects of them, a deep reflection on terror and trauma.

The Package

The Haunting of Hill House was shot with a bleak aesthetic, one that looks pretty desaturated. Despite this, the transfer shows up the detail and texture of the show very nicely. Details impress, blacks and contrast are strong. It’s a superb presentation that helps the viewers spot the intricate production design and ghostly happenings that are seeded throughout the show.

The release presents all 10 episodes across three Blu-ray discs, with extras limited to extended versions of three of the episodes, along with some superb commentaries for four episodes from creative force/director Mike Flanagan. They really are worth a listen, and offer much in the way of appreciation not only how he adapted the story, but also the technique deployed in executing his vision. It’s a shame he didn’t record one for every episode.

  • Extended Episode with Commentary — “Steven Sees a Ghost Director Mike Flanagan.
  • Extended Episode with Commentary — The Bent-Neck Lady Director Mike Flanagan.
  • Audio Commentary for “Two Storms” Director Mike Flanagan.
  • Extended Episode with Commentary — Silence Lay Steadily Director Mike Flanagan.

The Bottom Line

Once you start watching, it doesn’t take long to realize why The Haunting of Hill House was one of the most talked about things of last year. A deeply moving and melancholic family drama unfolds within the midst of a genuinely unnerving addition to the haunted house genre. The show is so rich and well crafted, a rewatch only serves to deepen appreciation, and this release, with its extended sequences and new footage, offers the perfect way to do so.

The Haunting of Hill House is available on Blu-ray and DVD from October 15th, 2019 from Paramount Home Entertainment.

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