Ever since its October 12th release, Netflix’s The Haunting of Hill House has taken the world by storm. From friends to family to co-workers to celebrities, it’s the show that everyone seems to be talking about. On the surface, it may seem like any other horror series that is centered around a haunted house; however, after watching just one episode, it is easy to see why this particular series has garnered so many fans in such a short period of time. To put it briefly, Hill House (for short) isn’t just scary; rather, it is a well-written and carefully crafted piece of storytelling with realistic and relatable characters, something that I believe many horror films and shows in recent years have seemed to lack – and that modern audiences crave to see.
Splitting its screen time between the past and the present, Hill House focuses on the siblings of the Crain family: Steven, Shirley, Theodora (“Theo” for short), Luke, and Nell. As children, the five spent a summer living with their parents in what was to become one of the most famous haunted houses in the United States – until their mother’s untimely and seemingly inexplicable death. Now adults, the fractured family must come together once again after the house claims another one of their own – and together, they must finally face what they witnessed in the house when they were young.
While Hill House is indeed scary, the show spends most of its time focusing on the relationships between the members of the Crain family and how the house affected each one of those relationships. For instance, Steven, the oldest child in the family, believes that he never saw any of the paranormal activity that some of his other siblings claim to have witnessed while living in the house, and he thinks that their mother committed suicide because she was mentally ill – not that the house killed her, as their father once claimed. However, as a struggling writer, Steven took family’s stories from the house and went on to write a bestselling book about the events that transpired that summer – despite not believing in most of what they said. This, combined with the money that he continues to receive from the book’s sales, is a large point of friction between the siblings throughout the series. Another good example of this is the dynamic between Luke and Nell, twins who were extremely close – and who were the most susceptible to seeing the house’s ghosts – as children. As a result, the two end up being the most dysfunctional as adults: Luke is consistently battling drug addiction and is frequently in and out of rehab, and Nell suffers from sleep paralysis…which often results in her seeing a ghost from the house that she dubbed the “Bent-Neck Lady” as a child. However, the shared experience also seems to have pushed the two even closer as siblings: for instance, when the series begins, Nell is the only one of the siblings who really believes that Luke will eventually overcome his addiction; it is clear that the bond between them runs deep. It is these types of relationships that really form the backbone of the series; they are the foundation upon what everything else is built upon because they are grounded in reality, drawing viewers in and holding their attention throughout all ten episodes.
Moreover, the themes that Hill House presents to viewers are extremely relatable and are woven into the story in a unique way. While the small screen is no stranger to horror stories about family and love, loss, etc., the show offers a fresh take on this through the way they take an episode to focus on each member of the Crain family; the first five episodes focus on the events of the same few days as seen through the eyes of Steven, Shirley, Theo, Luke, and Nell, respectively. Something even more interesting about that is a theory positing that each Crain sibling represents a different stage of grief: Steven is denial, Shirley is anger, Theo is bargaining, Luke is depression, and Nell is acceptance (you can view the theory on Buzzfeed here). If you think about it, this makes perfect sense with how each sibling deals with the aftermath of the events that transpired in the house in the past – and the events that are taking place in the present-day storyline. From that perspective, Hill House is able to offer viewers a look into time-old themes in a different way from what we have seen before, which is a big part of the reason why I think the series has become so popular. To top it off, the show also offers us a look at modern themes in a realistic way, including drug addiction and mental health, as well as having one of the siblings (Theo) be a member of the LGBTQ community. Including this type of representation in the series is very important to its inclusivity, and I think that the fact that these topics were respectfully well-handled has only helped to spread the show’s reach even more.
Overall, it’s easy to see why The Haunting of Hill House has pulled in such a massive audience. People love a good horror series, and Hill House has it all… but it does not solely rely on ghosts or jump scares (though it has plenty of both – and according to creator Mike Flanagan, no one has come close to finding all of the ghosts hidden in the background throughout the series). Rather than just being scary, Hill House is also realistic and well-written; from the different types of relationships between the characters to the modern and fresh take on its themes, the story does a fantastic job at offering something for everyone watching. So, if you are interested in the show but have not watched it just yet, I’d definitely recommend checking it out…though if you are like me, make sure you have watch with friends or family and have some popcorn and a good pillow or stuffed animal nearby. After all, this is a horror series, and it has no shortage of spooky content! However, in the end, dealing with Hill House’s scary content is well worth it; the series will make you laugh, make you cry, and make you think about life – and about what has transpired on screen – long after it is over. If that isn’t quality entertainment, what is?
Have you checked out The Haunting of Hill House on Netflix? Be sure to keep an eye out for ghosts and little clues in the background throughout your watch (or re-watch)…and to join the conversation on FoCC!