This seems to be a film review morning…
We watched The Haunting of Hill House, a new Netflix series. Here are my thoughts:
- I’ve talked to folks who didn’t find Shirley Jackson’s novel scary. I did, and I thought it was particularly effective because it never clearly told us what action occurred in the characters’ minds and what actions the house itself actually did.
- I think that the teevee series does the same, at least until the end.
- The reconfiguring of the Crains’ interest in the house was a particularly adroit move on the series creator’s part. The old-time Boston Brahmin feel of the house – and the way that feel invokes the Victorian Gothics – especially in that period’s American Gothic forms – made me think about the links between the Old and New Worlds that those texts interrogated.
- One of the appeals of this genre to me is watching the ways in which those who survived and thrived on the American continents attempt to reconcile everything they love and hate about the New World with what they loved and hated about the Old. Shutting themselves up in these spaces that are both full of cheap attempts to recreate classic European art – paintings and sculpture mostly, but architecture as well – *and* ways to show their own financial success directly contrasted with indigenous peoples’ ways of life, and the psychological stresses are clearly powerful (and hallucination-inducing, perhaps).
- This series updates that with its version of the Crains. The parents are a couple making their way by flipping houses, and this is clearly the biggest risk they have taken, the culmination of their success at building wealth by restoring the not-so-recently departed architectural past. Their obsession with thinking of houses in terms of getting rich (and not without a ton of hard work) is a beautiful twist on the US’s Puritan heritage.
- Each of the kids is invested in their own impressions of the house, and we’re never sure (until the very end) exactly what the house is, with one exception: it serves as a locus in which space and time are bent. Characters routinely see into the future and the past. The mechanisms of this are of course never explained, but if I continue thinking about this house from the perspective of the intersection of the New and Old worlds, then the Hills – with their New World-derived (and thus tainted) wealth – have paid the price for climbing past their proper social class.
- The series also works on our own culturally-produced ideas about sensitivity to the paranormal, and our obsession with understanding reality in terms of linearity and rationality. This series makes the argument that sometimes what we see simply doesn’t make sense, and we construct a whole series of ways to rethink what we see so we can place it neatly into a linear narrative that we understand.
- Or, in contrast, it fits itself into our desire to make the material world more than it seems. We want to believe that there’s more, and this series might simply fit that narrative instead.
- Finally, the use of a house as a symbol of the attainment of the American dream, and beyond, as houses signify wealth and status and also provide new money Americans with an opportunity to show just how refined (or unrefined) they are.