The Haunting of Hill House: Not a Ghost Story, but a Family One
On October 12, 2018, Netflix released a new series based on the novel by Shirley Jackson, The Haunting of Hill House. Written for the screen and directed by Mike Flanagan, director of movies such as Hush and Gerald’s Game, there was no question on the quality of its scare factor from the known horror director. With the trailer being released, it garnered excitement for the inevitable scares set in the classic haunted house story that has been adapted throughout the years. With a fresh spin on it, Flanagan goes beyond the story to its predecessor; the Crane/Crain family who once owned the house and their nightmarish life living in Hill House.
Going into the show, I expected a classic horror story of a haunted house; ghosts and demons and screaming girls. I was ready to be scared, hear loud noises and sudden jump scares. I was ready for the fun, the adrenaline that comes with horror, and a real quality to it as I’ve been a fan of the directors' work. What I saw was not what I expected, while it did not disappoint with its various ghosts, that was not the true focus of the story, rather than of the Crain family. With five children and two parents, the seven Crain’s pose to be a very interesting family in both the past and the present.
This show is not one about the horrors of ghosts, but family and how childhood trauma deeply shapes one's adulthood. From the past flashbacks, we see pivotal moments in each of the five children's childhood, then paralleled with their future selves, how those moments shaped their careers, relationships etc. It focuses more on them as people, their relationships with each other and their parents, and the different ways their interactions change how another's life goes. The titular haunting of hill house proves more to push these moments for them, an excuse for their actions as adults, though as the series goes on the haunting becomes less metaphorical and more real for the inhabitants.
Nonetheless, it poses more as a character study. For the eldest, Steven, we see him alienate his siblings through his career of taking their childhood traumas for his books. The second eldest, Shirley, shows as a child her brushes with death (losing her pet kittens, fear at her mothers funeral) to further explain her now career as a mortician. The middle child, Theodora, we see her discover her psychic abilities as a child and how she uses that as a psychologist to help her patients. The younger siblings, the twins Luke and Nellie, we see their nightmares in the house shape his drug addiction and her impending death.
While the beginning of the show focuses on the children, seeing them become their future and the various stories they claim to have about the house and their parents, the show ends with their parents' views. We are left unaware who their parents truly are, their mother specifically, as we are given different accounts of events and odd hints to them throughout the episode. We hear the stories of their mothers' descent into madness, their claiming their father being a horrible one. We are left to wonder why he is such a bad father, what happened to their mother, etc. In the end, we finally get some answers, and while we may not get them all, we are granted more insight into who these people are. We are given a full view of the entire family, all on their accounts, leaving us to choose who we side within their tumultuous family.
While at its core the show is a horror story about a haunted house, the true heart of the store relies on the family it focuses on and each characters troubles. Drug abuse, divorce, death, betrayal, we see more of the demons in these characters then the demons in the house. We see the way they fight, bite, hurt each other. The scenes that truly hit us, hurt us, and scare us are the ones based more in reality than of ghosts with bent necks and things in the wall.
The Haunting of Hill House is a horror story about the descent of a family to scattered pieces and broken hearts, with a few ghosts on the side.