Binge-r #110: The Haunting of Hill House + Apostle
THE HAUNTING OF HILL HOUSE S1
Streaming Service: Netflix
Availability: All 10 episodes now streaming
Primed for Halloween bingeing, this impressive new Netflix series doles out the jump scares and supernatural chills that you would expect in the latest adaptation of a revered horror text. But The Haunting of Hill House does so with patience, so that you have time to soak in an ambitiously expanded story that treats the waking nightmares of long ago as family trauma you can never really leave behind. “You keep your eyes closed no matter what,” a father tells his child as they flee the titular residence in the middle of a fateful night, and that desperate sense of care when we want the child to look so that we can experience – or even enjoy – the terrifying moment makes for a kind of irresistible, compelling guilt. The why matters here.
In Shirley Jackson’s 1959 novel, Hill House is both the location and the instigator. It’s a classic haunted locale that overwhelms those who visit, turning the cracks in their psyches to fissures. In the series, created by filmmaker Mike Flanagan (Gerald’s Game), who also capably directs each episode, the period mansion turns on the Crain family, who arrive in the early 1990s so that mum Olivia (Carla Gugino) and dad Hugh (Henry Thomas), with five children in tow, can undertake a profitable renovation (house flipping truly is cursed). The visitations begin with the children, whose fears are lovingly explained away. It sets a pattern: every time an adult talks to a child you parse their words with deep concern, because good intentions do not provide lasting protection.
Approximately 25 years on, the children are splintered by their differing experiences: Steve (Michiel Huisman), the oldest and the least affected, has become a successful author of ghost stories, starting with a fanciful account of his own family’s infamous experience, while the youngest, twins Nell (Victoria Pedretti) and Luke (Oliver Jackson-Cohen), are respectively a mass of jangled nerves and a heroin addict. The narrative slips between eras with malicious ease, emphasising how time’s passing mitigates little, and each sibling remembers events differently. Theodora (Kate Siegel), the middle child, has a sense of empathy somehow enhanced by Hill House, but it has served only to make her life warily remote.
The second oldest, Shirley (Elizabeth Reaser), runs a funeral home where she dresses the dead, and the occupation clarifies one of the show’s unexpected influences: Six Feet Under. As in that drama, family is a source of both strength and stricture, and the most troubling of emotions can get entangled in the bonds shared with those you’re supposedly closest to. The contemplative pacing always lets you know when the shocking looms because the point is not to surprise, but to enforce the inevitability of what the Crain family has and will go through. If you put aside your horror expectations, this series will open more doors than the ominous locked ones in Hill House.
Apostle (Netflix, 2018, 130 minutes): After The Raid and The Raid 2, a pair of masterful action movies produced with pungent vigour via the Indonesian movie industry, Welsh filmmaker Gareth Edwards returns to his homeland for this luscious, loopy horror film; he’s still breaking bones, but now at quarter speed. Set in 1905, it follows the barely together Thomas Richardson (Dan Stevens) as he infiltrates a religious cult holding his sister for ransom on a remote island. What begins as an atmospheric cat and mouse game finds both emotional clarity and mind-bending revelations as the patriarchal cult, which worships a goddess, runs out of control under the command of Brother Malcolm (Michael Sheen). Their utopian ideals hide desecration, torture and creatures whose provenance feels connected to the land and the bonkers plot. The movie alternates between the tense, the lurid, and the horrifying, but what’s never in doubt is the sheer vibrancy and loaded pulp imagery of Edwards’ technique. Lurching close-ups alternate with rugged, panoramic landscapes as everything and everyone spins out of control except the director.
New on Netflix: The biographical documentary Quincy (2018, 124 minutes), affectionately co-directed by his daughter Rashida Jones, lists the stunning achievements of one of popular music’s key creative figures; Ridley Scott’s American Gangster (2007, 156 minutes) is a little ripe in its recreation of 1970s Harlem, but as a crime boss and dogged police detective respectively Denzel Washington and Russell Crowe elevate the story.
New on SBS on Demand: In his final feature, Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead (2007, 112 minutes), filmmaker Sidney Lumet draws a family’s tragic division from a heist flick, with Ethan Hawke and Philip Seymour Hoffman as errant brothers; Halloween (1978, 87 minutes) is 40-years-old next week and John Carpenter’s slasher sensation remains a horror touchstone despite the many unnecessary sequels.
New on Stan: Sami Blood (2016, 108 minutes) is a wrenching coming of age drama, set in 1940s Sweden, where a young woman from far north’s indigenous population struggles to come to terms with her marginalised identity; Frida (2002, 123 minutes) is a striking if conventional biopic, with a committed Salma Hayek as the ground-breaking Mexican artist.
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