Binge Review 7: The Haunting of Hill House

I have said on more than one occasion that good horror is in short supply. These days it is all jump-scares and cheap thrills devoid of creativity. Back then making a great horror movie took craft and effort that resulted in some of the greatest classics of all time. Only recently we seem to be on the verge of a genre renaissance as more studios realize the potential of quality horror. The good stuff is few and far between, but when something like The Haunting of Hill House comes along, it is worth your attention.

Haunted house movies saw a massive resurgence after James Won’s The Conjuring. Not only was the film economic, but also well put together, and actually scary without too jump-scares. Since then everyone has been trying to emulate its success, only to come up short. However, given the recent revival of good horror, more and more writers and directors are learning lessons from the past.

Hill House has a very heavy emphasis on gothic imagery without gore or elements that are overtly horrific in general. The house is a fantastic set littered with old statues, intricate wall moldings, and random antiques to supplement the atmosphere. The ghosts seen throughout the series carry a macabre aesthetic. One is a very tall man with a bowler hat and cane, another a flapper in a silk dress, and others are classically rotten with green and black skin.

The icing on the cake is the drama of the characters. Hill House is centered upon the Crains, the original inhabitants of the titular house. Each episode jumps between what happened in the family’s past to how they are now after their experiences in the house. The epicenter of the drama is the night the Crains had to leave and how their father dealt with the fallout. Furthermore, being a haunted location, each Crain child had personal dealings with the supernatural, informing how they turned out as adults.

This is where the series works best. The writing and acting when the young and old characters are interacting with the house are the best parts. There is such realism in their collective plight and how it defines them as people. The dad in particular, played by Henry Thomas and Timothy Hutton, has a compelling arc as a patriarch trying to protect his children from the past, even as they hate him.

The children characters are comparably compelling, but I would rather not give it away. In fact, that is all I am going to say about The Haunting of Hill House. It is one of those series that is so good I do not want to ruin it by explaining why it is good. I recommend it for everyone, even if you are not a fan of the genre. The series is more about the drama of the family with the gothic imagery and horror informing the characters. That is not to say it is not scary. Keep that in mind if you decide to stream it on Netflix.

Movie Review: The Age of Adaline

Similarities to Benjamin Button are impossible to ignore when looking at The Age of Adaline (AA). So much so, I can think of no other way to begin this review than to point them out: the blurry color tone, cinematography, beginning time period, the story takes place in one iconic American city, and it deals the consequences of life with an age related condition. However, Benjamin Button had the added benefit of revolutionary facial CGI that made Brad Pitt look whatever age he had to be. What does AA do to set it apart?

Short answer: not a whole lot, but that does not mean the movie is bad. In fact, it is just average. It was not condescending, poorly made or acted. AA is totally inoffensive and anyone who has not seen Benjamin Button will probably like it.

Blake Lively plays Adaline, a seemingly ordinary young woman who was blessed with immortality in a freak accident in the 1930s. To avoid scrutiny by those who deem her a prime specimen for examination, Adaline changes her name and address with every decade. At the same time, she denies the advancements of men and the possibility of a relationship. Her subterfuge pays off for almost 80 years until she meet Ellis, played by Michiel Huisman, a wealthy philanthropist. In the ensuing romance, Adaline questions her strict adherence to her secretive lifestyle.

AA is an okay movie. There is nothing wrong with it, but there is nothing to get excited about either. It is a painfully average film, without the pain.

Lively was great. She puts a nice touch on the cadence of her voice that reflects the period of her character’s origin. It was an honest effort that paid off quite well. Compared to other roles, I cannot attest to her past skill outside of her minor part in The Town. I would have seen Savages if Oliver Stone’s name was not attached to it like a pompous, liberal rash.

Everyone else involved was just fine. Huisman was acceptable for his type of character and Harrison Ford as his father seemed to care enough to act in the time he was allowed on screen. For anyone interested, Hugh Ross, the Narrator from The Assassination of Jesse James, lends his voice to a few parts of AA.

Though average through and through, I have one complaint in regards to the actions of Adaline to keep her immortality a secret. A part of her process is changing addresses, but she only moves between San Francisco and Oregon. If you were trying to hide a secret so immense it would change the world, why would you live in the two places anyone looking would think to find you? It is justified because Adaline’s elderly daughter cannot go very far outside of California, but after 70 years of knowing her mother is immortal, I think she will understand if Adaline needs to live an isolated existence, far away from any possibility of discovery. On top of that, why would you confine yourself to the West Coast of all places? Seriously.

And that is The Age of Adaline. It is not a bad film and it is not a good one either. You will not gain or miss anything what ever you decide to do with your money.