This was truly a year ruled over by horror and, for our money, it got no better than the Netflix original series The Haunting of Hill House. This adaptation of the 1959 novel elevated horror in a way rarely seen on TV, where cable is loaded with shows like The Walking Dead and American Horror Story. What’s more, it took horror to a place not unlike films like Hereditary and A Quiet Place, showing just how far this genre can be stretched.
While it utilized jump scared to keep viewers on the edge of their seat, The Haunting of Hill House spent its 10 episodes building immeasurable amounts of tension and sympathy as we watched this tale of a family being ripped apart by a force stronger than they were collectively. On the surface, this is a show about the Crain family, a couple and their children who spent a portion of their lives living in a haunted house. That’s truly just the beginning, though.
Because this isn’t a haunted house show, as much as the title might lead you to believe it is. This is a family drama. Yes, it’s loaded with horrific scares and some truly disturbing imagery, but The Haunting of Hill House never forgets that the through line of the series is the Crain family and the trauma they continue to experience–and inflict on each other as a result of it–long after they’ve left the titular home. Watching this show, it’s hard not to feel distraught over what life in Hill House have done to the Crain children and how they continue to inform them as adults. Then, when the old house of spirits comes calling again, it’s a waking nightmare for each of them.
It’s not just the story that makes The Haunting of Hill House stand out, though. The casting of the adult Crain children–and the young actors who play them as kids–is remarkable. It’s easy to see not only a family resemblance in all of them, but also similarities between the adults and their kid counterparts.
Another impressive creative choice comes in the sixth episode, which is set almost entirely in a funeral home. In it, there is a continuous 17-minute tracking shot that goes throughout the mortuary–and even into Hill House–without breaking away once. In this one shot, viewers are shown each individual member of the Crain family present as they grieve the loss of one of their own. It’s an incredibly ambitious and impressive feat. And as creator Mike Flanagan has explained, it certainly was no easy task.
In the end, though, regardless of how good the cast is or how stellar the directing, cinematography, and camera work turned out, the only thing that’s going to hook viewers into The Haunting of Hill House is the Crain family themselves. This is a show that lives and dies on their story. That’s why an episode like “The Bent Neck Lady” can rip your heart out and leave you in a ball of tears that have nothing to do with horror. Instead, you’re just devastated as you realize that, for some in the Crain clan, all hope is lost.
That’s a stunning realization that even some of the best shows on TV wouldn’t be able to tackle as effectively as Hill House. Yet this series carries it out almost flawlessly, leaving you wanting more from the story of the Crain family of Hill House, but realizing there’s no more of their story to tell.
Still, while this one season of TV may be all viewers see of the Crain family, there is plenty of incentive to watch Hill House again. The drama may be what engages you during your first time through, but it’s the horror Easter eggs that will have you coming back for more. Whether you realize it or not, the ghosts of Hill House were hiding in plain sight all along, and a second watch of the series should show you just how scary life in that creepy old house was.
What do you think was the best show of the year? Do you agree or disagree with our decision? Let us know in the comments below, then check out our lists of the 10 best movies of 2018, the best streaming services we used in 2018, and the best Netflix exclusives of 2018.