Netflix Series Review: The Haunting of Hill House

Though I have never read the Shirley Jackson novel, The Haunting of Hill House, I have enjoyed watching adaptations of it throughout the years, the most successful of which being the 1963 film The Haunting. I have always been a fan of the horror genre, appreciating how, regardless of the quality of the film, it is the one genre that will always elicit a response. Comedy is subjective, and drama doesn’t always move you but even a bad horror movie will have one or two good scares.

Over the years I have become more discerning in what I see as a successful, and satisfying horror viewing experience. Sometimes it can just be a film that truly gives you the creeps but my favorite kind of horror films are the ones that pose bigger philosophical questions, and set about answering them by building tension through a slow burn plot and well developed characters. That is exactly what The Haunting of Hill House does.

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Clearly as a television series it has an advantage at being able to set a slow pace but this can also be to its detriment if the creators aren’t smart about the pacing. Thankfully, Hill House does a very nice job of breaking its story into ten fifty-ish minute chapters. The first half of the season is essentially broken up by character with the first five episodes focusing on each of the five siblings involved in the story. Over the course of these episodes we learn that this family lived in the legendary Hill House, that there was some dark tragedy that occurred, and that lasting psychological effects have plagued each of them into adulthood.

This first batch of episodes follows a classic horror narrative with its focus on the past haunted house story and other supernatural elements. It has the most horror style conventions, with the slow camera pans to the right or left to reveal something from the shadows, and the sudden cuts that result in good jump scares. Each of these scares feels earned thanks to the constant tension that is built throughout each episode and the season as a whole. Additionally, because we get to spend one whole episode with each of the main characters, when the second half of the season starts, we feel more attached and invested in the outcome. Learning how each sibling interacted with the house when they were children, and how they have coped with what they experienced adds a deeper layer to what horrors lay ahead.

Episode 6, “Two Storms,” may be my favorite of the series. It stands as the transition between the individual storylines, and what will be the final, family intwined storyline. It is the culmination of all of these egos and personalities, all performed beautifully by the cast, that we have been getting to know coming together to finally spark something. It also provides some wonderful flashbacks that add both to the dark mood but also the idea that this family used to be a tight unit, and that the house, both then and now, is determined to drive them apart.

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After that episode turn we get into the meat of the larger story and what this house is really capable of. This is where the true appeal of the show for me began to be revealed. This entire time the story has been laying the groundwork for its deeper themes of family unity and mental illness. There is the idea of a family that works together is stronger and we see again and again that when two members of the family are working in partnership, the supernatural elements are not as successful in their scheming. On the other hand, there is also the idea that family member idiosyncrasies may be genetic. Each of the characters has been dealing with some sort of post-traumatic stress but it is the introduction of the thought that maybe some of their issues have been inherited that we see a more meaningful thread in the story.

Horror films that play with reality versus the imagined can be very tricky. There is a fine line to walk in both trying to lend credibility to the idea of supernatural events while providing just enough doubt to suggest that they are simply imagined. Many films botch this portion of the story and fall too heavily on one side, fumbling in the end to provide an ambiguous enough answer to that more philosophical question of “What was real?” Hill House handles this balancing act by not addressing the question directly. There are characters that readily admit to having some sort of mental illness, and the question is never if they imagined it all. As Dumbledore would say to them, “Of course it is happening inside your head … but why on earth should that mean that it is not real?” It is how they learn to live with it in a world that rejects the idea of the fantastical that really matters.

At the end of the series I was both scared, of the horrors in this house and for these characters I had come to care about, and sad. I had been so caught up in the horror philosophy of the show that I hadn’t noticed the impact of the drama portion of the story. It had been stitched in throughout and though there had been some obvious plot points, generally the feeling it evoked had been a subtle presence, revealing itself at the end to be the true heart of the story.

I watched this series more than a month ago now but it has really stuck with me. I have had some vivid dreams thanks to the creep factor of the show but more than that I have been mulling over those other elements of the story, family and reality. Specifically, how your connection to your family can sometimes seem like a different reality than the one other people live in, and how that can be both wonderful and terrible at the same time. I love a good scary movie/show but even more I love one that keeps me thinking days and weeks later, and that is exactly what The Haunting of Hill House has done.

 

 

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Netflix Series Review: You

What makes a show binge-worthy? That’s the question I came away with after literally staying up until 2am watching all of the first season of You. It wasn’t a show I was looking forward to, and in fact I didn’t even know it was a thing until the day I sat down to watch it. I knew it was based on a book that was very popular, and which I had heard great things about but had no interest in reading. I also knew that the show starred Penn Badgley, who I like but wouldn’t necessarily call a favorite actor. So, back to the original question: What made it something I ended up binge watching?

Part of the deal, I am sure is that I found myself one weekend with the house to myself and nothing on the social calendar. I’ve definitely sat for long periods of time before, consuming mass amounts of media but usually it was something I had anticipated watching. With You, I sort of stumbled upon it. As I mentioned, I had briefly heard about it (that day), and as I scrolled through the options on Netflix, I paused to read the description. Now, Netflix has very cleverly started playing whatever content you land upon when you pause on the description. So, as I was looking at the show description, and considering whether or not I wanted to add it to my watch list, the first episode started playing. Very smart Netflix, catch us almost unawares, hook us before we even know what’s happening.

I’ll admit, the first episode was not what I was expecting from a television show about a man who stalks a woman and subsequently infiltrates her life. I thought it was going to be creepy, and if not creepy in the scary movie way, at least creepy in the way that stalkers usually are. To be fair, some of it does fall into that second category. There are things that happen that just make you feel icky but what struck me in this first episode was the light, almost whimsical tone of the voice-over. The start of the series feels like a romantic comedy, and in fact the story essentially begins that way. There’s a meet-cute involving a bookstore and some flirtatious exchanges, and the characters have charming chemistry. It doesn’t really begin to be disturbing until the end of the first episode, and that’s about when I realized I was hooked. The light tone takes a dark turn, a really dark turn, and suddenly the whole feel of the show shifts.

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The rest of the series is basically a back-and-forth of those two tones. You have some very comedic moments followed immediately by very violent and/or disturbing ones, and sometimes you even have comedic moments sprinkled in during the disturbing ones. It is an interesting experiment, and not always a successful one at that. Penn Badgley as Joe Goldberg is charismatic, self-deprecating, and surprisingly sympathetic. There are things that fall under the “stalker creepy” category but because Badgley plays the character the way he does, you sometimes forget that he is stalking this woman. That’s usually when the show does something to remind you of this fact, like have him break into her apartment.

Elizabeth Lail is a good counter to Badgley, and plays Beck, the object of Joe’s attention as a fairly typical millennial woman. She is clearly devoted to her friends, though they may not be the best people, and she is just trying to navigate life the same way other young woman in her situation would. She has romantic missteps, and her Master’s to be concerned with but she also seems to lack some motivation, and she definitely uses some people, including Joe at times. So, as Joe is sometimes sympathetic despite being a stalker, Beck is sometimes unsympathetic despite being the victim.

Like I said, it is an interesting experiment, and there is definitely that theme of the grey areas in human character. The show isn’t perfect and there are things about it I find irritating (some of the sexual content seems excessive, as do some of the storylines with Beck’s friends) but overall I think what made it “binge-worthy” were the performances and that playing with tone element. I laughed out loud at some things, felt a little sad at others, even had those stomach twisting moments where someone is about to get caught doing something they shouldn’t (usually Joe but not always), and still had moments where I felt queasy because at the end of the day it is a story about a man stalking someone. It covered an uncomfortable setup (a man stalks a woman and infiltrates her life) with dark humor and a charming lead. The show is good, and good shows make us want to come back for more but this show was addicting because of how it approached its subject and the people it cast to tell its story.

30 Favorite Fictional Characters

Reposting my #30DaysofFavorites project here on my blog. Sharing my 30 Favorite Fictional Characters.

 

 

 

#30DaysofFavorites: Favorite Actors

All throughout June I have been celebrating the fact that I’m turning 30 on the 30th by talking about some of my favorite things. I’ve posted several vlogs on my YouTube channel, and I’ve shared my 30 favorite movie moments, and my 30 favorite albums here on my blog.

Today, I’m sharing a list of my 30 Favorite Actors.

 

#30 – Emily Blunt
Favorite Role: Rita, Edge of Tomorrow (2014)

 

#29 – Nicole Kidman
Favorite Role: Gillian Owens, Practical Magic (1998)

 

#28 – Amy Adams
Favorite Role: Louise Banks, Arrival (2016)

 

#27 – Paul Rudd
Favorite Role: Danny, Role Models (2008)

 

#26 – Ryan Gosling
Favorite Role: Holland March, The Nice Guys (2016)

 

#25 – Uma Thurman
Favorite Role: The Bride, Kill Bill Vol. 1 (2003)

 

#24 – Chris Pine
Favorite Role: James Tiberius Kirk, Star Trek (2009)

 

#23 – Timothy Olyphant
Favorite Role: Raylan Givens, Justified (2010-2015)

 

#22 – Sebastian Stan
Favorite Role: James Buchanan “Bucky” Barnes / Winter Soldier, Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014)

 

#21 – Joe Anderson
Favorite Role: Russell, The Crazies (2010)

 

#20 – Sigourney Weaver
Favorite Role: Ellen Ripley, Alien/Aliens (1979/1986)

 

#19 – Gene Kelly
Favorite Role: Don Lockwood, Singin’ In the Rain (1952)

 

#18 – Paul Newman
Favorite Role: Luke, Cool Hand Luke (1967)

 

#17 – Errol Flynn
Favorite Role: Robin Hood, The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938)

 

#16 – Howard Keel
Favorite Role: Adam, Seven Brides for Seven Brothers (1954)

 

#15 – Burt Reynolds
Favorite Role: Paul Crewe, The Longest Yard (1974)

 

#14 – Richard Harris
Favorite Role: Albus Dumbledore, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone(2001)

 

#13 – Danny Kaye
Favorite Role: Hubert Hawkins, The Court Jester (1955)

 

#12 – Alan Rickman
Favorite Role: Hans Gruber, Die Hard (1988)

 

#11 – Harrison Ford
Favorite Role: Han Solo, Star Wars (1977)

 

#10 – Joaquin Phoenix
Favorite Role: Johnny Cash, Walk the Line (2005)

 

#9 – Keira Knightley
Favorite Role: Elizabeth Bennet, Pride & Prejudice (2005)

 

#8 – Sean Connery
Favorite Role: James Bond, From Russia With Love (1963)

 

#7 – Roy Scheider
Favorite Role: Chief Brody,  Jaws (1975)

 

#6 – Walton Goggins
Favorite Role: Boyd Crowder, Justified (2010-2015)

 

#5 – Jake Gyllenhaal
Favorite Role: Louis Bloom, Nightcrawler (2014)

 

#4 – Sam Rockwell
Favorite Role: Owen, The Way Way Back (2013)

 

#3 – Kurt Russell
Favorite Role: RJ MacReady, John Carpenter’s The Thing (1982)

 

#2 – Peter O’Toole
Favorite Role: T.E. Lawrence, Lawrence of Arabia (1962)

 

#1 – Robert Shaw
Favorite Role: Quint, Jaws (1975)

 

Discovery of the Week: Harry Connick, Jr. is Hilarious

This is less a new discovery and more a recent revelation but I missed last week due to a hectic schedule so I want to make sure to do a post this week. Plus, I really want to share this insight with people.

Photo courtesy of http://www.eonline.com

Photo courtesy of http://www.eonline.com

I pretty regularly watch American Idol, and I am not ashamed to admit. I haven’t followed it religiously since the first season and even after I initially started watching it, I wasn’t consistent. I like the performances in Hollywood and the theme weeks but I’ve never gotten really emotionally attached to a contestant. Although, I did just go to a David Cook concert in November and had a blast. So, I would call myself a fan but not a fanatic.

Photo courtesy of http://www.metrolyrics.com

Photo courtesy of http://www.metrolyrics.com

I’ll be honest and say that I don’t care what the judges have to say most of the time. I have never been drawn into a season because of who they have judging that year … until now. I was very interested to see how the new trio work together. I enjoyed Keith Urban’s commentary last year. He was pretty honest and seemed to genuinely enjoy the music and performances. It was a fresh addition to a show that had gotten way too scripted. I wasn’t ever in love with Jennifer Lopez but I think her air of sweetness is a good quality for judging.

After watching the first three episodes of the season, I know the real star of the judges panel is Harry Connick, Jr. Man, is this guy funny and ruthless. He has a great attitude considering most of the people auditioning don’t even know who he is but he plays it off wonderfully. He also has great chemistry with Keith Urban (I think they have a little bit of a bromance going on) and J. Lo.

What I really like is that he’s brutally honest with the contestants. If he doesn’t like a performance, he doesn’t hem and haw about how they have a good personality and such. He tells them blatantly that they aren’t good. He isn’t necessarily mean about it but he is blunt. He’s like Simon but with a better personality. Plus, he’s provided us with some of the best moments in Idol history and they aren’t even at Hollywood week yet!

Seriously, this guy is great …

harry conick on Make A Gif

Discovery of the Week: Elementary

Hey again!

I’m back after another short absence (sorry about that). I’d like to share with you today a television show I actually “discovered” last year, Elementary.

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It premiered last fall and I started recording it immediately. Now, anyone who knows me can tell you that I’m kind of obsessed with TV. Every new season I scope out the new pilots and record what I think I might be interested in. I may not immediately get to viewing these shows so I usually set my DVR to record the series each week. With Elementary, I basically didn’t get to it until the second season was starting. I had watched a few episodes (maybe 3) before it started again this season and then a couple weekends ago I binge-watched the rest of the first season. Let’s just say, it had a lasting effect on me.

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There are plenty adaptations of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes out there for fans to choose from, most of which I have not seen. I’m not sure why this one stuck out to me. Maybe it was such an interesting concept: what would Holmes be like in modern day New York? Add in a gender switch for Watson and you have enough to interest me. And, those are the things that I ended up liking the most about the show. I love Lucy Liu as Joan Watson. She has an interesting back story and is often the main focus of an episode which is nice. Holmes can be an overwhelming character and having a different, and fairly normal, character to focus on from time to time is good. I like too that Holmes comes into contact with her as a result of his rehabilitation after his substance abuse. I think it adds an intriguing dimension to their relationship. I also love Johnny Lee Miller as Holmes. He’s just enough of an asshole to make you want to hate him right before he shows you his vulnerable side and forces you to sympathize and root for him.

While you Were Sleeping

There are a few other twists and turns made to the story that I won’t spoil for you but simply let you know that they add so much to the success of this adaptation. Taking risks and trying something different can be scary and there will always be those who criticize any attempt to take on a classic but I’m loving the Sherlock Holmes C.S.I. adventure that is Elementary.

Elementary airs Thursdays on CBS at 10/9c.