Sonder as a feeling is best explained on the highway. Inside every car you pass, there exists an individual or even a family of individuals with a life as intricate and meaningful as your own. The Crain family feels like that family in a car you just passed. The Crain family are the main characters in the new Netflix series “The Haunting of Hill House”.
“The Haunting of Hill House” takes horror TV to a new level with its depiction of mental disorders, losing a parent at a young age and other childhood trauma due to the families time spent in Hill House one summer. Mike Flanagan’s adaptation of the 1950s novel uses time to show why the characters act the way they do as adults through their experiences in Hill House. This is done by showing the Crain’s as adults with families and jobs and then switching to them as children in the dreaded Hill House. The first six episodes are each focused on one family member which can be monotonous, but it keeps your attention long enough to draw you back in with the flashbacks.
It focuses more on family drama and how living in the sinister house affects the families dynamic rather than relying on cheap jumpscares around every corner. In “The Haunting of Hill House”, the house traps those who die there and it is never explained why the house keeps the ghosts. All we know is that the house feeds off those living within it.
‘The Haunting of Hill House” is different because it puts real three-dimensional and dynamic characters in these haunting situations. Flanagan has recently confirmed that the Crain siblings each represent one of the five stages of grief and it follows their birth order. Their grief comes from the loss of their mother through what they believe is suicide and being ripped away from her in the middle of the night with no explanation.
The characters are so tangible that you can see yourself in their shoes especially if you’ve dealt with childhood trauma or the loss of a parent. I relate the most to Eleanor Crain, better known as Nell. It’s not because she is the youngest sibling along with her twin Luke, but because she was too young to remember her mom as much as her older siblings.
Nell is the protagonist of the story and the glue of the family. Slight spoiler warning, she dies in the first episode of the show and proceeds to haunt her siblings, especially when they refuse to get along. She also remained in contact with their father despite him being alienated by the others due to his refusal to explain their mother’s death. Nell’s funeral is the first time the Crains have been together since Nell’s wedding. They all put their discrepancies behind them when it comes to their youngest sister. While alive, Nell is haunted by a ghost she named as a child, the Bent-Neck Lady. The Bent-Neck Lady manifests most often as an illusion during Nell’s ongoing struggle with sleep paralysis. Nell represents acceptance. This claim is further backed by the last episode where she gives a monologue exactly about acceptance and moving on, but never forgetting.
The lighting in the show is undoubtedly off and oddly yellow. This was done on purpose, of course, but it missed the mark for me. White in most scenes isn’t white. It’s more of an off-yellow. I could understand this color grading more if they were maybe showing the “good times” in a slightly cheerier color scale, but instead, it’s used in every scene. “The Haunting of Hill House” makes up for this in the camera work. There are multiple scenes where you’re experiencing the conversation or the character in the room through a reflection. When this happens you aren’t sure if you’re looking at reality or what the house wants you to see as it digests the Crains. The first quarter of episode six is done in one continuous shot allowing your eyes a break from darting around the screen searching for the focal point of the scene.
“The Haunting of Hill House” is horror done right. I was thoroughly creeped out and the tension build up among the episodes really makes you unsure of when a jump scare will come in and that makes them that much more effective. The Crains draw you in and keep you watching with a grip almost as tight as the grip the house has on them. The house Flanagan chose to be Hill House is truly eerie with its statues around every corner and drawn out hallways. I feel like we never saw the entire house and if it gets renewed, the focus should be on the beginnings of the house and the tormenting ghosts among its corridors. Speaking of ghosts, there are hidden ghosts in the background throughout the series. If you’re looking for a thought-provoking series with spooky tendencies and a hidden ghost scavenger hunt, then “The Haunting of Hill House” should be next on your “to be watched” list.