Might Contain Spoilers!
I enjoy a good series and I watch many of them, not only for entertainment but also from a writing perspective, character development, story, plot etc. The Haunting of Hill House, based on the 1959 novel by Shirley Jackson is a ten episode series which pulled me in, despite my initial reservations from watching episode 1. The story revolves around the Crain family, Hugh and Oliva and five children, Steve, Shirley, Theo, Nell and Luke, who spend a few weeks in Hill House. Their job is to restore the house, sell it and move on to the next project. As the story and the characters develop, it really becomes interesting and what is most catching about the series, is that it is refreshing and not predictable. In fact, the story could have gone in many directions and it really had me wanting to know more! I have not read the book so this was completely new to me and the story could have brought the viewer on a journey of mental illness, or the coping of a family in losing their mother in a strange and frightening situation or even it could all have been from the work of fiction from the writings of the eldest son, Steve, who wrote a book on his family’s experiences while living at Hill House for that brief period one summer.
However after watching the final episode (10), maybe it was my own expectations being too high, I was left feeling quite flat to be honest and now questioning many of the scenes in prior episodes. Hill House is it seems a containment vessel for the souls that live in the house, allowing them to continue existing, trapping and digesting their weaknesses and fears. The house in the last episode does not appear so dark, evil or ominous as it appears throughout the series, but it is more of a place that reunites families where they would be together forever.
The power of the house is only truly understood, I believe by the Dudleys, the caretakers, who refuse to stay in the house after dark. They do not fear it but respect it. They understand the power of the house can have over the living and this is portrayed when Oliva, poisoned their daughter. They bury the horrific incident, rather than report it because they know once the house exists, so will their daughter. Their belief in the house is shown again at the end of Mrs. Dudley’s life when her husband brings her into the house as she breathes her last breath so she could be reunited with her daughter.
The “Red Room” is a fascinating concept, allowing Oliva and her children to experience this unopened room in different situations that are unique to each of them and yet none of them knew they had ever been in the room until on the final episode, when Nell, the youngest daughter, now dead, reveals that the room is the stomach of the house, that digests each of them slowly when they are all at ease doing what they love, whether it is games room for Steve, a dance studio for Theo or tree house for Luke.
However there are also questions that can be asked, for example, how the young Nell in the series keeps seeing the horrifying “Bent Neck Lady” who turns out to actually be her older self or how during the storm that only strikes Hill House, young Nell disappears and yet she has been standing in the main hall all the time and no one could see her!
The show is brilliantly shot, magnificent imagery, beautiful writing and dialogue and with an excellent cast of actors, however, I did feel the final episode which did try to portray a message failed to show if it was the mother’s power over her children or the children’s loss for their mother that leads them on the chosen paths in adulthood. When Hugh meets with Oliva towards the end, they talk about preparing the children for the outside world, the world of the dark or perhaps it is the house that’s calling back its inhabitants. If it is the latter, the house seems happy to take the life of Hugh, and let the rest of the children go about their now much improved and what appears happy lives!
Who knows, perhaps Netflix will look for a second season, that might answer some of the questions or tell us more about the house itself and the power it has over the inhabitants, as Mr. Dudley says to Hugh, “The house is full of precious, precious things, and they don’t all belong to you.”
Available to watch on Netflix.
Image: Steve Dietl Netflix
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