How Netflix’s ‘The Haunting’ Anthology Redefines Horror

Repeatedly, we’ve come across horror movies or shows that have demanded our attention from the start to the end without fail. After a while, though, we started witnessing a horror era that became too repetitive, and too boring; proving to be less of a scare and more of an attempt to fit in with the rest of the movies and shows released in the genre.

There came a point where if you wanted to experience genuine horror in entertainment, the only means of it was to either read Stephen King novels or live in a haunted house of your own (I live in one so that was never a problem!).

But then came Mike Flanagan’s The Haunting of Hill House on Netflix, making us forget how bored we’d become of the genre and giving us a refreshing new look at horror. Recently, Netflix released the second season in the anthology The Haunting of Bly Manor, equally indulging, yet so different that you can’t help but think of how amazingly Mike Flanagan has explored the horror genre while keeping both shows different, giving us very real and human fears to think about and relate with.

In this blog, let’s have a look at how Netflix’s ‘The Haunting’ series has redefined horror. Although, spoiler warning, if you haven’t watched the shows and plan to, you may want to hold off on reading this blog for a while.

The Haunting

Jump Scares Are Old School

Personally, I think reading horror novels is better than watching movies because you can feel the fear in the way the story has been written, just like any emotion that a book depicts, which we empathize with. The point is, that in mainstream horror, the only thing that the movie or show focuses on anymore is giving us jump scare after jump scare.

Being a fan of horror, you may have likely watched tons of TV shows and movies, especially recently, that literally capitalize on their jump scares. The plot may not even be deep, the story or the ghost themselves may not even be scary enough; looking closely, you can spot the tons of make-up used by the team to make the ghost look that way. But they create such a suspenseful situation that your heart reaches your throat in anticipation, and with the speakers in full volume, and characters screaming for their life, you can’t help but feel afraid, and then stupid after a while because you saw it coming beforehand.

The best part about Mike Flanagan’s Haunting anthology, whether Hill House or Bly Manor, was that none of them capitalizes on jump scares. The horror is clear in the shadows where the ghosts are lurking, just out of the camera’s focus but clear enough if you pay attention to the background.

Haunting anthology

The one time in Hill House we’re given a jump scare, it comes so suddenly with a build-up so intensely emotional that for a while you forget you’re watching a horror show and when it comes; it feels like it has gripped you by the collar and brought you back to reality. This is what jump scares should feel like, and this is what’s been missing for a while in all the movies, trying to capitalize on our fears.

In Bly Manor, we got 1-2 jump scares, again depicting Flanagan’s viewpoint on how this is not the only way to make horror relevant. His idea of fear resides in exploring a much deeper meaning of fear, that can’t just be done with a scene that gives us a racing heartbeat for a few minutes. And that psychological fear makes this series refreshing and creative to the audience.

Ghosts As a Metaphor

Although there are ghosts visible in the background, and also in front of the screen in both the shows, these ‘Haunting’ adaptations explore the idea behind ghosts being a metaphor for one’s past that follows them into their present life.

This is an idea that Mike Flanagan has repeatedly attempted to explain through his Haunting anthology, and he’s done it successfully so far. In Hill House we watch the Crain family’s traumatic past that connects them as much as it divides them; the way Nell Crain was haunted by the Bent-Neck Lady to the point of having her life destroyed, and then the realization of who the Bent-Neck Lady was since the beginning. The Bent-Neck Lady analogy alone is one of the most profound we’ve seen in entertainment history; the idea that the scariest ghost that haunts us our whole lives is the end of this life itself.

In Bly Manor, we witness Dani Clayton’s fear of looking in the mirrors because of past trauma, the time-hops where almost every character ends up visiting a fond memory that they will never get back or live through, and Hannah Grose’s calming yet suspicious presence that even she at times doesn’t understand until she faces the truth behind it. These are their ghosts that define the characters as much as they ruin them.

Perhaps what hits us harder than anything else through this series is that the stories touch our most vulnerable parts, our most human fears that surpass seeing a ghost. The ideas behind being alone and forgotten, the idea behind how one day we will lose those we love, yet we make a promise to be with them, anyway. How one day we might become a forgotten face, without a voice, without a purpose, in the minds of those who claim to love us. These are the actual ghosts of the entire Haunting series, and this makes us feel for each character, even if we don’t like them in the beginning.

Redefining Horror

Hill House is a look into how a family can get hit by a tragedy which can separate it and bring it back together in the same manner, with the same people we attempt to push back being there for us. Bly Manor is a look at how strangers can come together to mean more to us than those we’ve been closest to for years; it’s a Gothic romance story that ends up ruining everything in a slow yet final way that everyone just kept denying until it became inevitable.

In Hill House we see each person’s story unfold, and how their experiences in their childhood home have become a huge part of their adulthood. Bly Manor takes us back into the past to show how the ghosts dominating the house have themselves been hit with tragedy and forgotten.

In the end, it’s not so much the ghosts as much as it’s the sorrow linked with them explored in both the stories which make the shows truly haunting.

Both stories speak of traumas and tragedies; of a person’s inner sadness and turmoil. Both shows are similar to each other in that regard, providing monologues, mazes, and different perspectives that allow us to explore the horror in detailed depths. It’s not the story of one person, and it’s not focused on one person. It’s the story of many people, all of whom have faced tragedies of their own, and all of whom have an episode dedicated to exploring that tragedy.

The Haunting Anthology is more of a psychologically influenced look into a person’s inner conflicts, shown in the form of ghosts. As the creator of the show, Mike Flanagan says, “There is a wonderful connection between a great love story and a great ghost story”.

What truly makes these shows brilliant and worthy of being watched aren’t the regular tactics to make us scared, but a true exploration of horror that has dominated our own heads ever since we were little and heard our first ghost story, or faced our first loss. One thing I love most about these shows is the ghosts standing in the background, it’s a nod to the very real ghosts we may have in our own surroundings that we have always heard of but never really seen ourselves.

Many people may not like Bly Manor compared to Hill House; even I didn’t a few episodes in. But once the story unfolds, we get to see how both of them are a well-portrayed horror story that doesn’t follow the same route as usual movies but put their own unique standards in place that may not be met for years to come, until we hopefully see another story uncovered in the anthology.

The biggest take from this series is how concepts like love, loss, grief, and trauma have been combined with that of child-like fears and horrors that follow us into adulthood; blending these two things through a natural connection is not something most shows or movies can achieve, but Mike Flanagan and his crew have done so brilliantly.

What do you think of Netflix’s Haunting? Tell us in the comments.

Maha Abdul Rehman

A content writer and a psychology major, I procrastinate for 6 months or write consecutively. And I occasionally watch (see: obsess about) Football.

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October 22, 2020 12:52 am

💯🙏👌 I don’t usually watch horror shows but this article has convinced me to add this one to my list.

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