Haunting of Hill House : Explanation and Discussion


Haunting of Hill House. The horror tv phenomenon of 2018. Directed and adapted for TV by acclaimed horror director Mike Flanagan, this show was released on netflix in October 2018, and people cant seem to get enough of it.

Haunting of Hill House revolves around a family that move into a house known as hill house. The parents plan on flipping the house and selling it for a higher price in profit. But thats the thing about horror settings, if youre getting a giant house cheap with the previous owner’s belongings, its haunted. Simple.

And this is where we enter spoiler territory, so read on at your own discretion. Also, this article is just my views on the show, the story and the ending. You do not have to agree with what I say. I really just hope to discuss the show with other fans.

Tl;dr:

All four siblings reach the house with their father. Steven and Hugh try to enter the red room, but are unable to. The door then opens, long enough for Steven to see Luke on the floor and for him to enter to save his brother. He is then knocked out and enters a fantasy reality where he is back with his wife who is in fact pregnant. However his reality soon turns in to a hell version of his fantasy and he is brought back to his consciousness by Nell’s ghost. Shirley and Theo are in the red room as well, and they too are stuck in a hellish version of their reality or rather the scenario that has been on their minds the longest. But it is all a projection of the red room, the house playing with their minds. Nell’s ghosts then explains to them, that like their mother said, the house is like a body. But the red room is not the heart, but the stomach. luring its pray in, digesting it. She reminds them of how they each had a room growing up, sort of like the room of requirement. Steven’s game room, Shirley’s family room, Theo’s dance room, Nell’s toy room and Luke’s tree house. A room that no one could find except them when they needed it. A room where they could get lost in their own worlds. Olivia too has her own reading room in the red room. She also explains that time in her head and much like the show, is like confetti or rain. Its sprinkled around them randomly and not sequentially like she once thought.  We then meet Poppy’s ghost trying to lure Hugh the same way that she did Olivia. But Olivia shows up, threatening the ghost to back off. Hugh begs for his children’s life but shes says hes the one who hurt them by taking them to the outside world. To which Hugh says, that there were good memories too, like Nell’s marriage. And that those beautiful moments existed because of Liv and him and the family they created together. He pleads for his children’s lives saying he will make a promise to her he would keep forever. I am assuming thats him offering himself, saying he is willing to spend the eternity with Olivia if she lets the children go. She then agrees to it and the four siblings rush out the room, in a hurry to get Luke to the hospital. Steven stays behind to see his father hug Olivia and Nell and accept his fate in the house. We also get in flashbacks, peppered like the ones in earlier episodes, the story about Abigail. Unlike how the show kept trying to say Abigail was imaginary, she was in fact a real girl. A real, beautiful adorable doll like looking child belonging to the caretakers of the mansion, Mr and Mrs Dudley. They do mention having a stillborn child earlier but for some reason they never mention Abigail to the owners. My guess is she wasnt really allowed near the mansion and she used to sneak out to play with Luke and then later to stay over for a sleepover. In the flashback, we are shown that Hugh wanted to destroy the house after his wife dies, but the Dudley’s offer to keep it there, to keep coming to see Abigail, since none of the people that died in the house were able to pass on into the netherworld. Hugh agrees, but doesnt want the house to be sold to another unsuspecting household. Steven then leaves, a line of ghosts behind him, watching him leave.

We then get a final epilogue. Steven gets back together with his wife again. Shirley sits down with her husband to confess to him about her infidelity and says she will always love him. Theo moves out of Shirley’s guest house and presumably gets together officially with Trish, I mean, I cant say really, she is a bit of a playboy. Or was. Luke celebrates 2 years clean with everybody. An aged, weakened Mr Dudley carries his dying wife inside the Hill House. She is then young again and standing in front of him with Abigail and their stillborn child in her arms. He then too dies and joins his family in the house.

We get a story of two families. The Dudleys refusing to move on, instead choosing to spend the rest of their time with their children even if for eternity. But they didnt kill themselves, they passed away when it was there time. A depiction of grief and loneliness but not of self harm.

Then our main family, the Crains and their story of moving on. While it was the house that kept dragging them back, to an extent, I feel it was more their story of their inability to let go, to move on with their lives. Even when there were no ghosts, the children were haunted by their childhood and all the things that went wrong. They learnt to forgive themselves, ask for forgiveness and learn to move on with their lives even if it hurt.

I mean really, by the end, it turned into a heartfelt story for me, which I was not expecting.  It wasnt scary after the end when the ghosts just turned out to be residues of their past selves, not able to move on. All of them just being victims of this evil monster house if you will. Till the end I did expect it to be some sort of a possession story, but it wasnt. And for that I am thankful.

Now lets dive into the details.

While its impossible to talk solely about the last episode without including previous episode and scenes. But still, lets talk about the last episode:

After realising that Luke stole Shirley’s purse and Theo’s car, the family tries to figure out where he must have gone. We again see Liv, talking in Hugh’s ear as an angel on his shoulder, or perhaps the devil? Constantly, for the last few episodes, Liv has been appearing behind Hugh, talking to him about his kids, telling him what to say. At first it seems like shes just the voice of his conscience, materializing itself as his wife, as a voice of reason. She seems to tell him what he should do, what he should say to his children. He seems to acknowledge her presence and talk to her too, but he doesnt follow what she says. While it does feel like shes a figment of his imagination at least for the first few times, but given how he doesnt really do what she asks him to, maybe she really is Liv. But at that point I was still not sure if she was Liv Liv or Liv sent by the house to lure them back. By the last episode, its quite clear that the house is either still possessed by the evil spirit of the woman named as Poppy, or just evil itself and that she too was a victim. You know how sometimes, in stories, a character is inherently evil but doesnt act without a catalyst. With the limited knowledge we were given about the Hill family that lived and died there, its possible that Poppy was a bad person, but never during her life and that after dying she became a part of the house and just forwarded the malice that the house had onto Liv. We finally get more scenes showing how Liv slowly went mad and started believing her visions more than her reality.

It is stated in earlier episode that Liv, Theo and Nelly all have special abilities. Liv often gets visions during her migraine attacks. Theo can read people’s past experience and feelings, and sometimes objects too by touching them. Nelly, I feel, can project herself. But its not in her control. I am not clear if Shirley was also shown to have any powers, she just sounds like a control freak to be honest. I also feel, that throughout the show, Shirley seems to have an idea about Theo’s powers and somewhere deep down, she was envious of them. Feeling like she was left out of something. And not accepting Steven’s money made her more so. And she would keep telling herself that she  is doing the right thing. Theo clearly suffers from her powers and is staggered when she touches Nell’s dead body. She too can see the future in some capacity, since as a kid, she saw her mother’s half damaged body when she touched her hand one day.Olivia can see visions of the future but the house uses its against her to torture her into immense fear for her kids and eventually into madness. Nell can project herself out of her reality and time and just did not realise it. We see it with how she goes through all the times she saw the lady with the bent neck and how it was herself from the future. This the first problematic thing in the story for me, that I will discuss towards the end.

Now going back to present day:

Our Crain family are all present in the house once again, including Nell (Eleanor) and mother Liv (Olivia). Steven and Hugh have followed Luke into the house. Here we see the tall man in the bowler hat that Luke kept seeing. Once again, Hugh tells Steven to look at him and nothing else, quite similar to how he told him to close his eyes when they ran away 20 years ago. The tall man bends at Steven smiles at him but Steven doesnt look. I am not sure what that scene achieved. Are the ghosts hostile? Is it just the house? Does the house make the ghosts hostile? Or are the ghosts just projections of the people who died here, and the souls themselves are all trapped in the red room since their death. But they didnt actually die in the red room.
I appreciate this kind of confusion and mystery in horror. Dont explain things to me. Ghosts and monsters not shown in movies are so much more scarier than having the ghost screaming in our face. In this show itself, the bent neck lady is so much more scary when you dont know  who she is.

Steven and Hugh run over to the red room and find it closed. They look for tools to open the red door. The door opens for Steven and he sees Luke, sprawled on the floor, reaching out to him. As soon as Steven runs in , the door closes behind him, locking Hugh outside.

The episode then shows Steven talking to a very pregnant Leigh, his ex wife, now wife again. But she soon dissolves into ash and explodes while telling Steven that nothing is real for him till he puts it down in prose. And that his obsession with writing and publishing his family’s story is what destroyed their marriage. Tapping into his insecurity and guilt over using his family’s tragedy and maybe many others to make money. But Nellie’s ghost turns up, touches Steven on the forehead , snapping him back to his reality in the red room with a dying Luke. He turns to see Shirley and Theo propped up on the wall beside him. He rushes to Luke’s side and sees that he has injected himself with rat poison, much like the vision Liv had about Luke overdosing himself with heroin. Or maybe she did really  see the scene with rat poison,changed just a little by the house to manipulate her.

We then see Shirley deal with her ghost of past. She runs into the suited man we have been seeing for the last few episodes. Not a ghost per say, but even if it were, Shirley cannot tell. Which leads me to believe that she suffers from deep guilt and already expects to seem him everywhere. I want to say that the house was manipulating her too, tapping into her guilt of having cheated on her husband several years ago at what seems to be a convention for morticians. But then, she herself feels guilty over it. So either Shirley is just not a nice person and if it werent for the evil house and its hold on the kids, maybe she wouldve just taken the secret to her grave. Or she is genuinely remorseful over what happened. But the ghost of the man says that Shirley went with him to the hotel room after she saw his ring. Like the ghost says, she took a calculated risk and felt the man had just as much to lose as her by cheating on his wife or husband. Maybe Shirley is the bad guy in this situation. This also shows in her constant fighting with her siblings over using Steven’s blood money, as she calls it. And her mocking Theo for bringing a different chick home frequently. As if she is compensating for what she did and trying to convince her conscience that she isnt the only one with sins in her past. She is then, like Steven, brought back to reality by Nell’s ghost. She too rushes to Luke’s side. Steven then tries cpr on him.

After this, we dive into Theo’s fantasy. She is back in her room at Shirley’s guesthouse, with the girl Trish. They seem to be talking about what Theo is going through while Trish sits over her and then ghostly hands come out of the bed and grab Theo suffocating her. But then Nell shows up and Theo is brought back to reality by touching her hand. My problem with Theos’s fantasy, or just Theo’s story in general is, theres not much. With all the other siblings, we are introduced to other characters from their present adult lives. Steven’s ex wife, Shirley’s family, mostly her husband, Luke’s girlfriend Joey and rehab center Paige, and we even spend time with Nell’s husband and psychiatrist. But with Theo, we dont get much info on Trish. Honestly for sometime I thought maybe she could be a thing created by the house to lure Theo back. We know shes a vet but thats about it. If anything, I found her character to be a bit bland. But thats what Theo needed, something calm and something that makes her feel at ease. She does have, well not bossy like Shirley, but she is intimidating. I guess Trish could be her counterpart in a way.

Next is Luke, and he is back with Joey to the place where they met after she ran away from the rehab center. They go to the hotel and try to talk things out, like Luke wished. He is then having dinner with Steven and Leigh and Joey at Steven’s house. I am not entirely sure if this was a scene from the past that got messed up or a future that Luke wished he had. A future where Steven is back together with Leigh and he has Joey to defend his life and choices as a fellow addict and really just defend him in front of his family who he felt didnt seem to understand what he was going through. And then Nell brings him back.

Nell’s ghost brings back all the siblings, and explains to them that the red room has been functioning as the stomach for Hill House. It lured in all the kids and Liv with things they loved and gave them a space to themselves. A space which very well could’ve been entirely in their imaginations. I think at their versions of the red room were just illusions or hallucinations and they all were always inside the damp, moldy room with broker furniture. And it was only in their heads. But then, does the red room disguise itself as a regular room during those times? Because Steven was earlier able to find Luke in this room and visit him too. Does it make a difference as to who is controlling the room at that moment or who is being controlled by the room. If Theo had wished, would Shirley and Nell be able to enter the room too when she was practicing dancing.

She also talks about time. How time is like confetti or rain, falling all around them, randomly and not a sequence from beginning to finish. This I felt was really just for Nell and Theo and Liv, since they were the only ones who were able to perceive or be parts of events out of time and out of sequence. Nell was the one haunting herself as the lady with the bent neck up till her death. Theo could see her mother’s dead bloodied body when she touched her hand. And Olivia constantly saw visions of grown up and tortured Nell and Luke. I did not like this scene. It seemed a bit more for the audience’s sake than the story. I feel the characters would probably not have cared about much in that situation for explanations. At least not if Luke was dying. Granted it mustve been surprising to see Nell there, but I dont think they wouldve spent that long listening to Nell. But then again, the red room was locked. It think its amazing how well Hugh lined up his sacrifice so the door would open once Nell is done explaining. And why does Olivia have more power over the house than Nell? If the house is evil, why did it open the red room at all once it had all the children inside. Or is it because Liv had already accepted her abilities before she died. Is Liv part of the house or under a curse? What about all the other souls there. Was it Nell’s own power, that out of fear she wished she would disappear? And then she did forever. Why were they able to see her in the red room then.

I have hundreds of questions regarding the show’s logic. But, the screenplay so far has been created to disorient the viewers. So even if people have a lot of questions, maybe its okay that Mr Flanagan decided not to answer them all. Its a supernatural show after all. Supernatural things are called such because they cannot be justified by the existing logic and science. In any horror setting, I seem to lose all sense of fear or anxiety when everything is explained to me. Even if someone decides to explain something, I much prefer to get visual or audio clues than getting a straight up verbal explanation from one of the characters. I guess the creators were trying to go with the middle ground by having Nell be all ditsy and dazed while talking to her family at the end. But I think the mysticism wouldve remained for me after the show ended if they had actually spent time establishing their fantasy world in the red room as real and then breaking the illusion for all together. Its kinda pointless to do anyone after Steven really, cause the audience knows its not real. We also get an epilogue with Steven getting back together with his wife. Shirley coming clean to her husband about her fling or one night stand, whatever it was. Theo moves out and presumably gets together with Trish, for the first time, letting an outsider in her life and opening up to her. Luke celebrates 2 years clean with his family. Mr and Mrs Dudley decide to die inside the house so they can spend eternity with Abigail and their still born child, now alive in their reality.

I feel the last episode was dumbed down a lot. And while I prefer more mystery and less explanation in horror, from fan reaction, maybe this was the best most satisfying way to wrap up the story and tie up all the lose ends.

I just hope if they wish to make a second season after this one, Mike Flanagan returns at least if not the cast. This show is based on a short story released years ago, and as far as I understand, they have used up that story. Also, the idea that the house itself is evil wont be as powerful now that people know whats going on in there. Unless they pull something like Stranger Things. I guess it would have be an original story. If they do do a second season, I would love to watch it. But even if they dont, I think they did a very good job of making a stand alone season.

What are your thoughts on the show? What did you think about the characters or how things ended? What was your biggest qualm with the show. Let me know in the comments below. Lets discuss.

Constructive criticism is always welcome.

Till next time.

Sincerely,

May

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