“Until you make the unconscious conscious, it will direct your life and you will call it fate.”
Without diving too deeply into the specifics of the show, I offer a few quick comments for those considering watching The Haunting of Hill House.
Mike Flanagan has been no stranger to Netflix and good reviews, with Hush (directed and wrote |RT: 92%), Gerald’s Game (directed and wrote|RT: 90%), & Before I Wake (wrote|RT: 62%) currently available to stream. With Hill House, he makes an indelible mark on the horror genre where the efficacy of the mini-series, consistently advocated on this page, shows itself a formidable force for sucking in the audience into what they know will be a manageable weekend binge. When it comes to the horror genre, writing is the missing element that directors need to embrace even if the audience is satisfied with cheap thrills. The reason for this is because horror taps into the visceral ethos of the human experience as it mines the depths of fear and anticipation in a way that suspends the audiences capacity to think outside themselves and force the memory of death on their being. To say this another way, horror, written well, can force us to confront the phrase Memento Mori (“be mindful of death”) and the psychological threat of our eventual undoing. Our minds, like our bodies, appear resilient, but with every foreign attack we can either develop the antifragile state of Nassim Taleb or become a slave to a fearful state of existence that has plagued our college campuses (see this and this).
I say all this because Hill House shows glimmers of this throughout. Not only through a craftsmanship of directing (especially that Episode 6), but also through its complex storyboard editing and temporal shifts that invoke the appreciation of the psychological elements of mental breakdown in a completed cycle. We cannot see our own undoing or creation tomorrow, but we can certainly reflect on our potential for either today. Hill House is most scary when it delves into the theology of mental collapse and reminds us of our frail natures.
That said, much of the show strikes parallels with the writing of Jung, and it was here that Flanagan missed an immense opportunity to delve deeply into the psychology of the unconscious and the psychiatry of dreams and religion. Certainly the series is full of obvious plagiarisms from The Conjuring, Babadook, and that Westworld opening rip (that must have been pre-approved or a lawsuit is coming). Some of the writing is abysmal, saying too much and not enough when the plot is begging for clarity or silence. This is part and parcel the problem with American cinema, though. No one seems to be reading anymore and films are becoming little more than the routine small talk that is little else but noise pollution. The ending is disappointing, although many will find it exactly what they hoped for after the nine episodes of emotional disturbances.
There is much to discuss in the series and I encourage people not to simply be satisfied with the obvious entertainment, but use it as an opportunity for introspection.