The Haunting of Hill House and Oculus How Far Weve Come

first_imgStay on target What to Stream on Netflix This Weekend11 Other Old-School Nick Shows That Should Get Netflix Movies Can the past kill you? My take on the matter changes depending on the day, depending on whether or not the past is trying at the moment. I generally consider myself to be an optimist but like anyone I’ve felt haunted by horrors of years gone by. Some days it feels like I’ve outrun them but others I can feel them nipping at my heels, no matter how many walls I’ve built between myself and those memories. I get the feeling director Mike Flanagan would say the same.Flanagan has made his name over the last few years with a couple of movies almost universally agreed to be significantly better than they needed to be (snaps for Ouija: Origin of Evil please), a tense Stephen King adaptation, and an inventive home-invasion take on the slasher film. But it’s with Netflix’s original series The Haunting of Hill House that he seems to have truly arrived, as they say. The story follows siblings whose family was torn apart years before by a possibly supernatural force. Over the course of the story they come back together and return to the house in which their family was shattered with the intent to confront the past and try to resolve the trauma they’ve been living with for so long.First Came OculusOddly enough, you could more or less copy and paste that summary to the Wikipedia page of another one of Flanagan’s films without anybody noticing. Mind you, I’m not saying he plagiarized himself (how does that even work?). It’s just hard to not notice the DNA shared between Hill House and Flanagan’s first real hit: Oculus. And it’s particularly incredible to look at the way the two films tell effectively the same story but with opposing thematic conclusions.In Oculus a brother is reunited with his sister after years in a psychiatric ward, having been committed for murdering their father years before. While the circumstances of the murder are ambiguous at first, his sister remembers supernatural forces tied to an ominous mirror being responsible for the implosion of their family. Her brother has, in the years since, suppressed any memories that indicate the involvement of otherworldly forces, instead insisting that their father’s insanity was to blame.‘Oculus’ (Photo Credit: Courtesy of Relativity Media/ © 2013 Lasser Productions, LLC)Similarly, Hill House follows a group of siblings who grew up in the shadow of mysterious events and what might be a murder that took place at the titular home they spent a summer in. Both films depict the siblings eventually returning to the houses in which their families fell apart and confronting the forces that destroyed them. As they do, they bridge the gaps between them created by years of ruminating trauma and unresolved questions.Narratively and thematically, Hill House and Oculus are extraordinarily similar — though Hill House’s 10-episode run allows for far more in-depth exploration of the ideas at play. Perhaps that’s part of why Flanagan chose to revisit the subject matter: Oculus has a comparatively short runtime and doesn’t allow him to explore these themes to the extent he desired. Despite this, he’s able to form as clear a thesis throughout the film as he is in the 10-episode series. It’s the conclusion at which the thesis arrives that makes the film such a compelling parallel to Hill House.Tragic EndingsOculus ends as it begins: in tragedy. The film opens with younger brother Tim being taken away for the murder of his father. In its closing moments he’s arrested for murdering his older sister, the person who convinced him to fight against the supernatural forces that ruined their lives to begin with. In both cases the blame actually lies with the spectral presence attached to an ominous mirror. As he’s carted away by officers, we see the ghost of his sister appear through a window in the house alongside the dark, warped spirits of their long-dead parents (Oculus’s mirror, like Hill House, accumulates the spirits of the lives it takes over the years). It’s a bleak, cynical ending, one I found to be a huge letdown considering how compelling and emotionally affecting the rest of the film is. It wasn’t until Hill House that I began to appreciate and reevaluate what that ending has to say.See, at first Oculus’s ending felt like a bad Twilight Zone-esque twist, one that wasn’t earned and contrasted tonally with the story being told. What I now realize is that the ending’s implications made me uncomfortable because of its thematic implications more than its narrative ones. In the tragedy of the present echoing the tragedy of the past, Flanagan posits that the past always wins. You can run. You can fight. But in the end, your trauma will destroy you. By trying to escape it you only prolong the inevitable.Reconciliation at Hill HouseComing to this realization makes the ending of Hill House all the more compelling, both as a piece of art as well as a reflection of Flanagan as a storyteller and a person. Whereas Oculus ends in tragedy, Hill House ends in… well, triumph may not be the right word. Reconciliation feels more apt. The Crain children and their adrift father return to Hill House to face the literal demons that have followed them for over a decade. The journey leading them there sees fraught, fractured relationships repair, the children finally becoming something of a family again by the finale’s final shots. Not everyone makes it out alive — Hugh is killed by the evil within Hill House — but even the (literal) ghosts of their loved ones find peace. Their spirits now bound to Hill House, Hugh, Nell, and Olivia realize that even in death, if they’re together Hill House can’t destroy them. It’s only a place. It mirrors their loved ones reconciling in life, no longer haunted by the horrors of their childhood.It might not be a victory in the traditional sense. There are no miracles and the dead aren’t brought back to the world of the living. But the story ends in peace. Unlike the siblings in Oculus, the Crains are stronger for having confronted their trauma, recognizing they, not the ghosts of the past, are the masters of their fates.‘The Haunting of Hill House’ (Photo Credit: Steve Dietl/Netflix)Breaking the Mirrors of TraumaHere are two facts about Mike Flanagan. He was born in Salem, Massachusetts, a city unrivaled in the extent to which it’s defined, even haunted by, its past. In 2016 he married actress Katie Siegel (Theo in Hill House) and soon after they had a child together. I know nothing about Flanagan that isn’t available to read on his Wikipedia page but these seem relevant. In 2012 he made a movie about the ways that trauma warps our perceptions of our past, on how it chases us over years, decades even, nipping away at our souls until one day they’re broken beyond repair. He’d been working on Oculus even longer before then, adapting it from a short film he’d made in 2005. That he grew up in a town defined by centuries-old horrors only makes these themes feel all the more integral to understanding him as an artist.I don’t know what happened in his life between 2012 and today but something made him reconsider. Something showed him that while we are our pasts, we are just as much our futures, our potential, our ability to become more than ourselves. Something showed him that love can’t magically reach back in time and undo trauma, but it can pull you away from its grasp in the present. Something showed him that even decades later, it’s never too late. To Flanagan, trauma is no longer a mirror, a reflection revealing us as broken. It’s a house, a collection of walls, some of which we’ve built ourselves. But there are doors as well. We can let ourselves out and, crucially, let people in. Those who walk there, after all, walk together.Stream The Haunting of Hill House on NetflixMore on Geek.com:These Theaters Are Coming to a Theater Near You‘Larva’ is the Creepiest Children’s Cartoon on NetflixSuperman Is Now the Witcher: Henry Cavill Cast as Geralt in Netflix Serieslast_img

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