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Reviews: Haunted Houses and the Sandman

The Haunting of Hill House

Netflix

If you have any social media presence, you’ve likely caught wind of the buzz around Netflix’s newest horror series. The question is, when something catches fire as this series has, is it worthy of the accolades? Or is it just another piece of pop culture fodder that will fall by the wayside as time passes by?

 

To understand what The Haunting of Hill House is, it’s important to recognize the source material. It began as a book written by Shirley Jackson, one that’s spawned countless interpretations (both officially and unofficially), including a very popular movie from the 1960s that pretty much any horror fan has seen. Most adaptations focus on the common thread of proving the existence of ghosts, that there’s some way to scientifically prove the paranormal.

 

The Netflix version instead focuses on family and relationships, and that’s what the core of horror is all about—what happens when you throw these likable people into chaos and how they react to it. It’s why some movies stand the test of time even if they have hokey moments or dated special effects. It’s why a movie like the original Poltergeist holds up, because you care about the family and their journey. Series creator and director Mike Flanagan pulls from those ideas.

 

If aspects of The Haunting of Hill House feel familiar, it’s because of other productions that have utilized the same source material. And more than that, Flanagan is obviously a Stephen King fan.  He previously helmed Gerald’s Game and is on deck for the pseudo-Shining sequel Doctor Sleep, both King properties. There are also hints of Rose Red throughout the 10-part series.

 

Even with fingerprints of other movies, the series finds new ways to surprise and adds some incredible new elements – including one beautiful reveal that caught me off guard. It feels like a missing puzzle piece gratifyingly falling into place.  That’s the art of storytelling.

 

There’s a fantastic theory that rumbling around that each of the five siblings represents the five stages of grief. I have no idea if there is any validity to that concept, but it just proves how the characters are so thoroughly different. They come out of the experience of being kids living in this house with their own baggage and in such distinctly personal ways. Each is an expression of what loss and an unstable childhood can do to us as adults. Each offers us a way to connect with the characters on their journey to come to terms with “that” house.

Beyond that, it stays with you like your own personal haunting. As I came out of my binge-watching mania, I wanted to slide right back in. There are enough breadcrumbs that I’m looking forward to watching it again. And if that isn’t the mark of a fantastic series…

– Nikki Hedrick

EDITOR’S CHOICE

Adam Sandler 100% Fresh

Directed by Steve Brill

Netflix

How fitting that this one dropped on the 50th anniversary of Elvis’ Comeback Special, since it’s pretty much the comedy equivalent. Most of Mr. Sandler’s straight-to-Netflix movies have misused the man’s talents, and none are the equal of, say, The Trouble with Girls or Harum Scarum. Here, our guy sticks to what he does best—raunchy but good-natured standup and hilarious songs. Mr. Sandler’s tribute to his Saturday Night Live pal Chris Farley works because it’s heartfelt. And funny as hell.

– Chris Manson

 

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