The Power of Family: A Review of The Haunting of Hill House (2018)
The Haunting of Hill House isn’t about a haunted house. No, it’s about the dynamic, emotional relationships between the members of the Crain family. It’s also about the relationships each of them has with themselves, as well as the outside world. It’s about family, mental illness, personal connection, and, yes, ghosts.
Hill House is the most famous haunted house in the United States, per TV show lore. The Crain family’s stay in the house was short lived — and cut abruptly short on one tragic night — but the echoes of the past continue to ripple throughout each of their lives. Contrary to the title, the show is set mainly outside of Hill House, 27 years after five crying children and their father flee to safety.
Each episode is like a profile piece on each member of the family.
Steven, who wrote the best-selling book, The Haunting of Hill House, travels to supposedly haunted places, hears their stories and publishes them, even though he’s never seen a ghost himself.
Shirley runs a funeral home and takes pride in “fixing” the corpses of those deceased, just like the funeral director did with her mother 27 years prior.
Theodora is a child psychologist who can feel the echoes of the past whenever she touches someone or something.
Luke is a recovering drug addict who just got his 90-day chip.
Nell suffers from sleep paralysis and lives in absolute fear of the bent-neck lady.
Finally, Hugh, their father, holds in a secret that eats him up inside so deeply that he missed his children growing up.
What had me so enthralled with this show wasn’t the scares. It wasn’t the dark, occupied shadows of Hill House, or the mystery of the tragic events of the past. No, what enthralled me was the characters themselves. The raw and sometimes overwhelming emotion that pored from every scene had nothing to do with Hill House and everything to do with the Crains. These characters have been through so much both together and apart that every meeting is wrought with strife, sadness and love.
That obvious kinship is so tangible on screen that it can be attributed to both phenomenal writing and extraordinary acting. A good script is nothing without talented actors, and vice versa. With familiar faces — like Timothy Hutton (Ordinary People, Leverage), Michael Huisman (Game of Thrones), and Kate Siegel (Hush) — and not-so-familiar faces — like Victoria Pedretti — this cast fits together in such a way that it shocks a small part of me to think that they’re not actually a related.
Each and every character has experienced a trauma so great that it affects every aspect of their existence. The show covers the topics of PTSD, depression, schizophrenia, and anxiety. It touches heavily on suicide, as well. The stigma of mental illness in this country comes to light several times in Steven’s character, while it is cast out in Theodora’s.
The most powerful scene in the entire show, to me, comes when the entire family is gathered together for the first time in years. There’s laughter, there’s crying, there’s anger, there’s sadness. There are lighthearted moments, but they’re mostly heavy as the weight of their shared trauma bears down on them. This scene is made all the more powerful by the way it’s shot. The camera spins round and round, focusing on whichever character is speaking and revealing what that character may or may not be seeing. We, as the viewer, get a 360-degree view into that character’s mind during that encounter. It’s brilliantly done.
The final point I’d like to touch on is the fact that there are a million little secrets in The Haunting of Hill House. Secrets from and between each character; secrets about the house, secrets from the viewers at home. The entire show revolves around secrets. In the Crain family, secrets are kept in order to protect each other, but they end up causing more strife and hurt than they’re worth.
I highly recommend you watch The Haunting of Hill House. Watch for the scares, the family and the secrets. Watch for the emotional intensity and the blood-curdling screams. Watch it and let me know what you think!