The Daily Stream: The Haunting Of Hill House Is Better (And Sadder) On Repeat Viewings

Welcome to The Daily Stream, an ongoing series in which the /Film team shares what they've been watching, why it's worth checking out, and where you can stream it.)

The Show: "The Haunting of Hill House"

Where You Can Stream It: Netflix

The Pitch: Mike Flanagan had already made a name for himself as a director of unique horror films that balanced emotion with scares by the time he made "The Haunting of Hill House," but the show quickly became his masterpiece. Loosely adapted from Shirley Jackson's novel of the same name, "The Haunting of Hill House" follows the fractured Crain family in two timelines: as adults dealing with longstanding traumas and resentments, and as kids living in what became known as the most haunted house in America. For ten episodes, we follow them as they cope with a death in the family, as well as the mysteries of what happened on the house and what they did and did not see. It is part of Flanagan's "The Haunting" anthology, which we desperately hope gets a third installment

Why it's essential viewing

As Halloween viewing, "The Haunting of Hill House" is just what you want in a horror show. It is not filled with so many jump scares that they become tedious after a couple of hours, but still has a sense of dread and unease that permeates every single scene. No matter how calm or talky a scene is, there's a feeling that something is off or something bad will happen (after all, there are dozens of ghosts both hidden and in plain sight scattered throughout the season). This all culminates in what remains one of the best jump scares in recent memory — yes, you know the one. 

And yet, what makes that and every other scary scene so effective and memorable is that it is charged with incredible emotion. Mike Flanagan has created a niche for himself as the master of sad horror; with every movie and show he touches balancing scares with tears, and "The Haunting of Hill House" is the most effective proof of that. This is an effective and scary ghost story, yes, but it is also a poignant and tragic tale of mental illness and trauma. It's a story about the way suicide impacts and destroys families, beautifully acted by a stellar cast, and aided by a haunting score from The Newton Brothers.

But what became clear on a second watch of the show on Halloween weekend is how much more effective (and sad) "The Haunting of Hill House" is on repeated viewings; how, when you know the key to the puzzle, you realize how much of the characters' pain and suffering could have been avoided.

'The rest is confetti'

Thought "The Haunting of Hill House" isn't strictly a mystery show, there is plenty that is teased in the first episode that slowly unravels throughout the season, leading to big payoffs towards the end. For one, there is the question of what exactly happened at Hill House and whether the ghosts are real, but also the question of how the children's mother died, why their father refused to say that she killed herself, and why he chose to keep the house abandoned after her death.

Watching the show for a second time, already knowing the truth about the house, the ghosts and the timeline of events that is hidden until the end of the season brings to the foreground the tragedy of the Crain family. Sure, it is fun to watch the story slowly unravel through the non-linear story, but it is equally as entertaining to watch the show knowing what is to come, because it highlights the emotional layer of Flanagan's take on the story. 

Ghost or not, knowing the full story allows you to realize that the parents could have easily paid a bit more attention to the kids being terrified of the house, which could have prevented several traumas in their adult lives. Likewise, even if you don't take into the account the supernatural aspect of the story, the fact that the house was full of mold and other toxic stuff clearly affected the adult Crains, and just some time away from the house could have helped avoid the worsening of their health — both physical and mental. Even the house's caretakers could have been more open about the weird occurrences at Hill House, which could have spared the Crains so much pain.

"The Haunting of Hill House" is a fantastic ghost story full of surprises for newcomers, but it works just as well as a tragic story of preventable horrors on repeated viewings.