What makes a horror movie really frightening is when you’re able to put yourself into the shoes of the characters and feel as if you’re there standing amongst them fearful for your life and a part of it all. The Haunting of Hill House allows the viewer to step into the lives of each member of the Crane family and re-live their experiences of the tramatic event of their mother’s death that haunts each of their lives. This means you can experience the very different way each of them deal with fear and, perhaps, pull yourself a little deeper into the action.
Is this a family drama? Is this a murder mystery? Is it a gothic horror?
Why can’t it be all of these genres? My partner and I were speaking about our thoughts on the series half way through. He said that he didn’t feel it was a horror series because of it’s huge focus on family drama. But I don’t think a horror series has to be one or the other. Actually, the use of such strong family themes makes the series more frightening.
The horror genre use our own real life fears as a basis for any story it tells. At the end of the day when we watch, let’s use Scream as an example, we may be scared of some teenagers slashing up our friend group but the underlying fears are those of technology, or following in the messed up foot steps of our parents or even our fear of our own bodies!
Ultimately, the use of elements of family drama is frightening, because what do each of these characters fear most? Loosing each other. Becoming their father. Family secrets. The ghosts of their past coming back to haunt them.
It’s in this way that the use of the house as the monster of the series is beautifully done! Usually in the gothic horror genre the house is only a tool used to embody the evil spirits within. But this house breathes and lives and has a heart at it’s core. Just like the idea of the family structure with the Dad as the patriarch, the mother the warm and soft guiding figure, the eldest son as the protector of the other children, and so on. The break down of the house itself, when each of them threatens to burn down it’s walls, really, they are threatening to tear the family (and as we come to find, many families) apart.
Haunting as mental illness
Are the ghosts real or is it all a hallucination perpetuated by a sick mother to two of her youngest children? Well, this question runs throughout the series but not in the way you might think. We are positioned as an audience to believe that the ghosts are real. They are in many of the scenes, we see their interactions with the main characters, we hear their back stories. The series wants us to believe they are a real part of this story. But then why does it keep bringing up mental illness as a cause of the experiences of the characters?
It all goes back to the theme of family and the family house. Trauma’s that you experience as a child run deep. This is even spoken about by the Olivia, the mother of the family, when she recalls why she is scared of storms well into adulthood spurning from the experience of her father’s death and a coinciding storm of stones that brings back feelings of fear and ideas of death years later.
“My father died and I made it rain rocks.”
As a society, although we have come a long long way to better educate ourselves on the topic, we are still fearful of mental illness. This is especially perpetuated in families as we see in The Haunting of Hill House as the father Huge refused to see this and decided instead to shut it away and not tell this story to his children. Mental illness became a secret that haunted each of them.
At the end of the series we see Hugh craddling Oliva’s mangled body after having killed herself and he repeats over and over again “I will fix this, I can fix this.” But he can’t fix it. So the only sollution he can maintain is to fix the reputation of the family and to make sure Olivia’s reputation as a wonderful mother is maintained, even to his own detriment. When in reality, speaking about the experience is hard and horrifying it would go on to help the entire family more than anything. Hugh see’s this at the end, when he consistently says that he wanted to “keep the door closed.” He even says that for years he “pressed his back against it.” But in order for the children to come to terms with their recent deaths, they needed to hear the truth.
For a more specific look at mental illness in The Haunting of Hill House I would recomend this article by Bustle. They go really indepth with each character and the little signs that point to a silenced mental illness.
A comment on literature!
Ahh! One little tidbit of this series that snuck up on me was the comment on horror literature! It’s almost metafictional, as one of the main character’s Stephan Crane is a writer and rewrote the events of his childhood into a best selling horror novel called the Haunting of Hill House that attempts to tell the stories of each of his family members. But that’s the thing about telling other people’s real life stories is that you never experience things in the same way another can. Even if you sit down with them and hear their entire story you will never have experienced it as they have. You can never 100% understand the experience of another!
There’s a scene in the last episode (spoiler warning!) where the house is trying to force their demons onto each other of them. For Stephan this comes back as his wife (they’re separated) demonizing him for “chewing up and spitting out” the experiences of others as a coping mechanism. The embodied house claims that he does this so that he can force the events to fit into his own experience rather than trying to understand and empathise with the experiences of others.
This comes full circle in the very last scene which is why I feel it’s a pretty important part of this series. When the father is passing on the baton of the house to his oldest son to take responcibility for he shows him the exact events of that night in order for him to fully understand why he did what he did and why his son needs to continue on the secret of hill house. The secret of the Dudley’s needs to be shown to Shephan in order for him to fully understand. Because as we have seen through the entire series, telling stories and their experiences to him does not work. He will not listen but needed to be shown.
So, What Did I Actually Think?
At the end of the way, while I might be thinking of tropes and tribulations I really connected with this series. It had be fearful and teary-eyed, in love with the use of language, sitting of the edge of my seat as each little piece of information was dropped into my lap but it never 100% unveiled the meaning behind it all until the very end.
Overall, it’s a binge worthy series – only ten episode series – that will make you feel all of the feels. Plus, this series is one that does not stop giving. Like my favourite horror movie Scream, each time you watch it you see more and more. More hidden ghosts in each and every scene, more of the interesting plot structure that loops and loops around until it drives the characters crazy, and even more.
Have you seen The Haunting of Hill House? What did you think? Is it worth the current hype? Did you feel it was a horror series?