(This article contains spoilers!)
The Haunting of Hill House (2018) is a horror television show based on the novel by Shirley Jackson and directed by Mike Flanagan. It follows the twisted story of the Crain family and the supernatural events surrounding them. This and the tragedy that tore them apart and eventually brought them together, as much as they could be at least.
Beneath the surface of horror, the show is ultimately about family. Each of the Crain siblings represent a stage of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and, finally, acceptance. Together, these stages of mourning lead to the relief of moving on and the peace-of-mind brought by acceptance, but by themselves these stages are far from pleasant.
As the siblings grow up, they’re very close, but the supernatural events happening inside of hill house cause turmoil and personal struggles. It starts to tear them apart as they each discover more about themselves, the house, and their family. Looking at this in a non-horror perspective, it’s a really accurate portrayal of family. When families go through traumatic events, they start to distance themselves as they learn about themselves, their grief, and how they cope with it. This is the main concept in the next stages of life shown in the Haunting of Hill House.
As adults, the Crains live either very separate lives or they’re very distant from each other. They all have coped with their trauma in very different ways that are reminiscent of the stages of grief they represent. Steven Crain, denial, doesn’t believe anything about what happened at Hill House. He writes a novel about it and investigates other supernatural occurrences, but he lives in the comforting, distorted reality of denial. Shirley Crain, anger, lives a seemingly normal life with her husband and kids, but is shown lashing out during times of crisis and when reminded of what she experienced as a child. Theo Crain, bargaining, becomes very closed-off and begins a career in therapy. She lives in a very giving way, using her gifts to help others with their trauma, almost as a bargain for a better life. Luke Crain, depression, struggles with addiction and distance from his twin sister and other siblings. He is shown as trapped in his addiction and his depression as he battles through this and the supernatural crises in his life. Nellie Crain represents acceptance. She goes back to the home she was once desperate to escape and accepts the fate that has haunted her throughout her entire life.
There are two instances in the show where the family is brought together in a way that shows their dynamic as a cohesive unit: Nellie’s funeral and the night of a large storm during the siblings’ childhood. At Nellie’s funeral, everybody is coping in ways very similar to the ones discussed before. This causes them to fight and have overwhelming tension surrounding them, but the family being together while grieving is what keeps them all sane. Many of the secrets that are built up to throughout this 10-episode series are shown in these scenes as the siblings become more vulnerable with each other. This vulnerability is what allows them to conquer not only their grief and trauma, but the more horror-based aspects of the show as well. The night of the storm shown in the same episode shows this same dynamic, but how it was before the night they left the house. However, the house is important. Hill House was the basis of their dynamic and their personal turmoils, but it was also a connection to how they were as a full family before everything that had happened.
Every aspect of the series is built around the events of one night. This night is revealed to be the result of the Crain childrens’ mother, driven to insanity, attempting to kill her own children to “keep them safe” from the world. She is portrayed as extremely empathetic and protective of her children, but her own conflicts and experiences drive those two beautiful qualities to a horrific conclusion. On this night, the other Crains escape Hill House along as the family they once were. Upon their return to the house as adults, the opposite is shown; they are accepting of the exact things they represented.
This all boils down to family. The underlying point of the series is to show the effect of grief on families and how getting through it together and fighting personal turmoil together can be life-saving in more ways than one. Coping with anything can be extremely isolating and personal, but the portrayal in The Haunting of Hill House gives insight to how this can affect others and how sharing each other’s pain, as well as strength, keeps them together. Each siblings brings something to the family that contributes to it as a whole, whether this be an ability, personality, or strategy. They become stronger together than they ever were alone, which is the main theme throughout the show. Its portrayal of family is ultimately about dynamics and their effects.