SERIES "The Haunting of Hill House"
WHEN | WHERE Starts streaming Friday on Netflix
WHAT IT'S ABOUT Olivia Crain (Carla Gugino) and her husband Hugh (Henry Thomas) move into a massive, ancient house, "Hill House," with their children Nell (Violet McGraw), Shirley (Lulu Wilson), Luke (Julian Hilliard), Theo (Mckenna Grace) and Steven (Paxton Singleton). They intend to fix up the old charmer, then flip it. But the plan does not proceed as hoped: The house is haunted and when the children have reached adulthood, it's done a major number on their collective heads. Grown-up Luke (Oliver Jackson-Cohen) is a drug addict; Shirley (Elizabeth Reaser) embalms dead bodies; Nell (Victoria Pedretti) is suicidal; Theo (Kate Siegel) can't control her libido; and Steven (Michiel Huisman, "Game of Thrones") is a successful writer who nonetheless is obsessed with ghosts. So is their father (Timothy Hutton plays the older Hugh).
In the early episodes of this 10-parter, "The Haunting of Hill House" — based on the Shirley Jackson novel of the same name and adapted by Mike Flanagan ("Ouija: Origin of Evil") — toggles between the young Crains and their older, troubled selves.
MY SAY In 1959, Jackson published one of the finest Gothic horror stories ever written, and four years later, Robert Wise returned the favor by directing one of the finest screen adaptations of a horror story ever put to film. Already a legend by this point (he and Jerome Robbins had shared a directing Oscar for "West Side Story" a couple of years earlier) Wise managed something both remarkable and unremarkable with 1963's "The Haunting": He honored the source material.
Of course the adaptations should have ended there, but they never do. A 1999 Jan de Bont swing at the Jackson novel missed badly. This 2018 Mike Flanagan effort scarcely acknowledges, much less honors, the Jackson (or Wise) source material. In fact, that may be the more prudent course of action because comparisons are not inevitable, and would hardly be favorable if they were. You do however wonder why Netflix ever bothered to call this "The Haunting of Hill House" in the first place. Maybe because a more factual title, like "Crazy People Who May or May Not See Ghosts," doesn't work quite as well?
Flanagan is an accomplished horror director and writer ("Oculus," "Absentia," "Before I Wake") but the Netflix factory line has its own peculiar challenges, most notably that huge canvas. His "Haunting" is a two-hour movie spread over 10 hours. That doesn't mean there's eight hours of padding here, but it often feels that way (I saw the first three hours and the last. Sorry, but even TV critics have only so much patience.)
There are a lot of Flanagan touches, like — for want of a better description — did the character really see that ghoul or was it all in his/her head? It's heavily psychological, bordering on pathological, which sets it further adrift from the Jackson novel. There are some good jolts, and some effective horror visuals. But there are not nearly enough while his story, that interminable story, keeps getting in the way.
Flanagan and Netflix may have done the world, or at least Jackson, an unintended favor. In the wake of this bloat, it's inconceivable anyone would try to tackle her novel ever again. No one would dare.
BOTTOM LINE This "Haunting" is so far from the original source material that it's more of a demolition than adaptation.