To be specific, today I’m talking about the mini-series Haunting of Hill House from Netflix, which came out in 2018. I feel like I have to be specific because so many works have the title Hill House, or Haunting of Hill House, or some other hilly housey variation. And many of them don’t have a goddamned thing in common with the Shirley Jackson original besides cribbing the title.
That’s not the case with Netflix’s Haunting of Hill House, though. I’d say that this is the adaptation that is most true to the original work. And it’s the adaption that, in my opinion, Shirley would have loved the most.
The story is about the Crain family, who purchased Hill House to flip it. The first episode starts with the father, Henry, pulling the children out of the house in a panic. They leave behind their mother, Olivia. We later find out that she died. There’s some question as to how she died, whether it was suicide or her husband killed her. Of course, right away we’re all pretty sure it’s the house.
This is all set in the past, though. In the present, the Crain children are called together when the youngest, Nellie, goes back to Hill House and kills herself as well. Allegedly.
Of course, we all know, that’s not how that went down.
Through the course of six episodes, we see the family from two points in time. We see them in the lead-up to Olivia’s death, then in the lead-up to Nellie’s. Each episode focuses on one character, until the end. Until the House manages to lure all of them back.
Haunting of Hill House was packed with Easter eggs for us Shirley Jackson fans. Everyone’s name is a reference. Luke, Nellie, and Theo are, of course, the original characters from the book. At one point Nellie’s seeing a therapist, named Dr. Montague. Shirley, of course, is named for the lady herself. And her married name, Harris, is a reference to Jackson’s iconic short story collection The Lottery, or The Adventures of James Harris.
We’re also treated to so many of the best-loved lines from the book. One of my favorite moments of the series was when Mrs. Dudly takes a little Nell by the shoulders and tells her to insist upon her cup of stars. It melted my heart.
What I loved most about Haunting of Hill House was that it, like the original story, talked about mental illness right along with the haunts. We see a family that’s torn apart by the loss of their mother, the heart of the house. We see how that’s impacted each family member in a different, but heartbreaking way. Steven, using the story to forward his career. Shirley and Theo, constantly caring for everyone while at the same time keeping them all at arm’s length. Luke, descending into drug addiction to hide from the pain. Nell, plagued by anxiety. And Henry, believing himself to be the cause of it all, avoiding his children to not hurt them further.
Watching the show, we know that Olivia Crain didn’t kill herself. We know Nellie Crain didn’t kill herself either. Both were victims of the house, and what walks there. We’re led to believe that the various effects on the five kids are caused in part by the house too.
But not entirely. After all, it doesn’t take a twisted house murdering your mother to drive you to drugs. Or to push people away. Or to lay awake at night, feeling like there’s a cold stiff hand around your heart.
This is why Haunting of Hill House stays with us. Because we can all fall prey to these horrors. And this is why I started bawling like a child at the last line. Because if you are struggling, however you struggle, you do not walk alone.(5 / 5)