Recently, Netflix released a 10-episode series known as The Haunting of Hill House, inspired by the original novel by Shirley Jackson. The show doesn’t center around much of the original plot, however. Rather, it centers around the Crain family (making them the center focus rather than a distant detail), and their troubles in an after the house.
The Crains initially buy the derelict manor in order to flip and sell it, so they could afford to build their own dream home. As time goes on, however, strange things begin to occur around the house, culminating in a “final night” that causes them to leave in a hurry. This night, and life in the house in general, slowly comes together in bits and pieces seen through “character focus” episodes. There is the long-standing mystery of what exactly happened the “final night”, which is solved at the end, but the viewer can’t help but notice that a complex and frayed family dynamic is at the forefront.
Now, throughout the series, there is plenty of the paranormal. There are obvious ghosts, hidden ghosts, even the crazy imagination ghosts. The show lets you know that yes, this is a horror story, making some freaky designs and figures. The ghosts do follow the adult Crain children around, affecting some more than others (Nell and Luke experience the paranormal the most, Steven and Shirley the least). The house has a certain quality about itself as well, seemingly alive and possessive, taking over the minds of Olivia Crain and Nell Crain, and protecting itself against attack. There are multiple levels to the paranormal in this show, providing an especially ghoulish aspect.
In Nell’s episode, however (named the “Bent-Neck Lady”, after the main ghost that haunts her), all this comes into question. Unlike the other siblings, her episode is rife with mental stability issues, as she deals with sleep paralysis, trauma, and anxiety. The youngest Crain’s stable life is ripped out from under her with the death of her husband and a switch to a new therapist. From then her mental health declines rapidly, leading her to enable her twin’s drug addiction and have an argument with her visiting sister. The episode culminates with her returning to the Hill House and committing suicide via dreamlike state , leading to another interesting twist. In the moments before she hung herself, she realized that she had a noose around her neck and she was standing on the edge of a staircase, and got confused and scared. In the moments after, the viewer realizes that she was the “Bent-Neck” Lady, having haunted herself the whole time.
The episode, which works as the halfway point of the series, explains how Nell ended up dying in the house. But it also hints at how the mother, Liv, died in the house as well. Both Luke and the father Hugh blame the house for “killing” Nell and Liv, despite the fact that both were suicides. This could be explained: Nell went into a dreamlike trance, seemingly led by the house into putting the noose around her own neck. As for Liv, she starts seeing ghosts that convince her to kill her family to protect them. From what, is unknown. It’s easy to argue that the house does contain some supernatural capabilities, actively influencing Liv and Nell to their final moments.
However, notice who the house seems to affect. Liv came into the house with an unknown mental illness, marked by migraines that she would get periodically. Her condition was only exaggerated by the fact that Hugh didn’t get the proper help for her, unable to because of stigma against mental illness that plagued the time period. The old house started to get to her, leading her to have sporadic and “possessed” behavior, leading up to her death.
As for Nell, she was also mentally vulnerable, having suffered from trauma and anxiety since she was as young as 6. She was also more prone to being “influenced” by the house, and only was really affected by the house when she was in her most vulnerable state. Luke also, sits in a vulnerable state, and was more prone to being affected by the house due to his struggles with drug addiction.
Also, it can’t help but be noticed that most of the paranormal occurrences occur when the family is divided, following the hill house. Which begs the question-is it really paranormal? Or is it all just a metaphor?
Well, we don’t really know. You could go either way, but you can also say it’s a mix of both. There are shared paranormal experiences among the family, adding a more solid paranormal experience. At the same time, there are individual experiences that are especially tied to mental illness and especially trauma, which solidifies the hypothesis that it’s all a metaphor. All-in-all, it’s never fully explained. Although the cast does like to relate to the metaphor theory, especially as the family is so dysfunctional and traumatized that it would make a great amount of sense.
The Haunting of Hill House is actually a very good show. While it does have its corny shots and moments, it is one that provides multiple layers to its horror, making it perfect to watch in time for Halloween.