The Haunting of The Hill House – Screenplay and Ending Explained
“Hill House, not sane, stood by itself against its hills, holding darkness within; it had stood so for eighty years and might stand for eighty more. Within, walls continued upright, bricks met neatly, floors were firm, and doors were sensibly shut; silence lay steadily against the wood and stone of Hill House, and whatever walked there, walked alone”.
Mike Flanagan has managed to give us one of the most beautiful horror stories that we have witnessed. He not only aced at the genre but continued to amaze us with the complex yet the exceptional first season of the show, ‘The Haunting of Hill House’. The main reason why the series has gained critical acclaim is that of the glorious filmography and as well as the noticeable screenplay that comes with unexpected things. This series has even crossed other shows like ‘Gerald’s Game’ and movies like ‘Hush’ or ‘Oculus’. This recent Netflix release is said to affect the viewers in ways unknown while some of them even claimed to have depression and anxiety attacks after watching the show. The story of the series is originally based on the novel, The Haunting of the Hill House written by Shirley Jackson back in 1959. The title of the book refers to the book written by Steven Crain, an ex-resident of the show who believes that it is not haunted. The beauty of Flanagan is that it explores the thread between the past and as well as the present relations of the show through a unique narrative weaving an intricacy between both of them. Like his previous collaborations, Flanagan has managed to keep his unique storytelling style with mounting and slow-burning anticipation and massive build-ups.
Many commentators have praised the series, including the great Stephen King, who remarked, “I don’t usually care for this kind of revisionism, but this is great. Close to a work of genius, really. I think Shirley Jackson would approve, but who knows for sure”. There has been a lot of emphasis on this particular praise that it concentrates on the wholesome series explaining the defiance of Flanagan in not relinquishing artistic satisfaction for generic jump-scares. Even though there are moments of surprise, the very few jump-scares are worth their while. The little spurts are often used to bring together family members, often haunted by their deceased relatives.
Despite the solemn tone that is spread over all the show, Flanagan manages to keep the proceedings lighthearted which are why we love them. He manages to create the moments being a comedic genius even that the famous Coens will be extremely proud of it. The narrative then pensively shifts from the family’s stay at the house in the past to the present and lingers in between. It entails a spectrum of moods, emotions, and layers to the characters offering us to engage among the people. The piece is then dissected creating a meaning to the plot along with the ending however you can find a few nuanced aspects that people have seen in the whole series.
The story of The Haunting of Hill House:
The story of the show then shifts between the past and the present of the family as they live at the Hill House. However, even after leaving the house the family can sense the presence of the house in their present. The whole series is about the Crain family who has seven members, Olivia and Hugh being the parents with five children, Steven, Shirley, Theodora, Luke, and Nellie. Luke and Eleanor are twins while Olivia is an architect. Hugh is the fixer who dabbles in fields including carpentry, plumbing, and others. Two of them take up the assignment of Hill House, an edifice which has been standing for centuries in order to fix it so that they can sell it. During the renovation of the house, the Crain family moves into it only discover that the house been consuming them all the while.
The Crain’s family stay at the Hillhouse and the entire plot here is formed around Olivia, the character of the mother. This character has been shown in an interestingly strategic way that she is shown as a caring mother who loves her five children, especially the twins. However, she is also an architect that loves her work. While the Crain kids are frequently haunted by the ghosts while their stay at the Hill house, every kid has a separate story on their own. All the kids except Steven have their own encounters with different kinds of apparitions. Nellie, the last kid out of all and one of the twins is also another interesting character because she is constantly spooked by the Bent Neck Lady. Luke gets scared by the Long Floating Man whose hat he wears. Theodora is haunted by an invisible yet sensible force and Shirley is scared by the collective efforts of the family.
Olivia, during her time in the house as she spends renovating it starts getting heavy migraines which start with headaches. The phases gradually turn into nightmares and delusional periods exploring her lunacy. Her paranoia increases with each episode to a point where she gets in the trap of Poppy Hill, the manipulative ghost. This charry owner decides to provoke Olivia with her pompous talks and convinces that there is a cruel world outside the house and that she should not let her twins go into it. This appeals to Olivia’s motherly instincts and subverts her rational thinking altogether. Poppy also suggests that she should wake the children in order to keep them confined in the house, which means that she should kill them.
The family, however, observes the weird behavior of Olivia and Hugh suggests that she should take a break from her home. She wants to leave her sister’s house however in reality, she is feigning to ruin the plan because of her fear of losing the children. She takes up a room in a motel and returns home the same night, without Hugh’s knowledge. Hugh thinks that she is with her sister and when Shirley notices of her luggage, she finds Olivia in Kitchen. She goes to inform Hugh about her return where he sees a rat poison and a kettle in the red room. On his arrival, we Abigail, the imaginary friend of Luke who is not really imaginary, being dead in the red room. Nellie and Luke are also seen drinking the same tea in the form of a tea party and Hugh stops both of them from drinking it and pushes Olivia against the wall. Because of the blow, she falls unconscious.
Hugh uses this opportunity to gather the children in the car and takes them to a motel. Olivia on regaining the consciousness notices that all of the children are missing and scampers to find them. She is then warned by an apparition about Poppy and her manipulation only to see that her family is running away. Poppy lures Olivia into committing suicide towards the end. After seeing Olivia’s behavior with the children and with Dudley, Hugh returns to her dead body. The Dudleys find Abigal, their daughter being dead and reveals that she is kept inside the home because they did not want the world to know her. The Dudleys are now reunited with the daughter and they ask Hugh not to burn the house in order for their silence over Olivia’s death.
The Crain family is now utterly disoriented and has split since the death of their mother. The incident has been haunting them given how it went. The siblings have taken various career paths based on their childhood experiences but are not in separate paths while barely communicating with each other. Steve, the eldest is now a writer whose fame is bestowed on him at the cost of his sibling’s love. He wrote about their stay at the Hillhouse in a novel which made him face several backlashes from the family. Shirley is a mortician who has chosen the profession after seeing someone fix her mother for the funeral. This is also supported by her childhood incident when the few cats that she has adapted have died and no one was able to fix them. Luke, on the other hand, is an addict who is struggling between life and death. Luke, one of the most affected kids is an addict who struggles in life while borrowing and stealing money from the siblings. Theodora lives with Shirley in her guest house as a child psychiatrist decided to help the children against their nightmares. Nellie’s profession is not shown in the series but she decides to seek help from a sleep technician for her sleeping problems while Hugh lives all by himself in an apartment. All of them are now living different lives. Steve, Shirley, and Nellie are also shown married while Theodora is shown as a lesbian and Luke with a possible love interest from his rehabilitation center.
All the family members of the Crain family are now haunted by the ghosts from the Hill house, that they kept seeing visions in the daylight. Nellie is the one who is way too affected by the past and therefore is subjected to mental instability. This is the reason that she is led back to the house in order to confront her demons. The family is then brought together by Nellie’s murder which is labeled as suicide in the house. The most haunting element of the movie is that the grown-up Nellie is the Bent Neck Lady who kept scaring the child Nellie. The family starts mourning her death in disbelief that there has been a constant mental illness among the family. Hugh then reveals that it’s the house which has killed Olivia. After the funeral, Luke is traumatized and disappears from the house taking Theodora’s car and Shirley’s credit card to the Hill house. The Crains’ after knowing his intention to burn the house down decides to rescue him from all the absurdities that are there. On reaching the house, the entire family is thrown into the Red Room except for Hugh who gets trapped on the outside. With the help of Nellie, Hugh sacrifices himself in order to rescue Crain siblings in escaping the house by settling the differences off.
The Red Room:
The interesting part of the house is the Red Room. It is shown in the past that the Red Room has been locked and irrespective of the key, it can’t be open. The room is remained to be locked all the time even when one has tried to open it with the master key. All the attempts to open the room has been futile and only in the last episode that we realize the real face of the Red Room, knowing of its amazing ability to transform while deceiving the residents. According to Nellie, Red Room is nothing but the ‘stomach of the house’ which is digesting the occupants in order to consume the souls. In the final episode titled as ‘Silence Lay Steadily,’ it is revealed that the Crain kids have visited the Red Room multiple times that all of them lived in the room without their knowledge. The room as Nellie says has been the setting for too many scenes. She says that the room is Nellie’s toy room, Luke’s treehouse, Theo’s dance studio, Shirley’s family room, Steve’s game room, and Olivia’s reading room. A room which has managed to put maximum faces so that they can be still and quiet and that it can claim them forever.
Red Room is symbolic of the house’s manipulation. From the exterior, it is locked but from inside it is inviting. It is like a haven for the family members who wanted to stay with the personal confrontations. It has the ability to adapt to the needs and desires of the people while allowing them to finalize their grief. By accepting them individually, it wants to break the bonds in the family. As an isolated room, it feeds on everyone while not letting one another find solace in each. Hugh is shown as the only member who is bereft of the delusional games by the room, maybe because of the strong will. He has successfully managed to dodge the snares of the room that has been set up for him. However, in the end, he offers his life to his children so that they can free themselves from the malicious attempts of the house by being a captive to it. He is probably the only person who has seen the room for what it is; the empty rotten room is which is extremely lifeless and soulless. The room has elevated the narration of the series by being the biggest mystery throughout the series and is put wonderfully based on the script written by Flanagan. It is designed as a metaphor to explore the behavioral psychology of the Crain children as we strengthen the sadness and grief which warps the family.
The House as a Character:
We see meticulousness on the small screens as we witness series like this. Flanagan has proved himself to be one of the most classical directors even if his screenplay is loosely based on the troubles of the Crain family. Most of the characters in this movie are based on Jackson’s original work that revolves around the troubles of the Crain family. A book usually lets the reader enter into the interior of it by communicating with the characters better than a TV series or the film. The depth of a writer and the platform of the writing are capable enough to craft the reader into the fabric of the story. HHH is a film which reverses all the stereotypes by exploring the interior world of the characters by using the house as a character. The flipping of the plot allows Flanagan to construct the narrative while imprinting it on us as a distinct brand of terror. ‘HHH’ undoubtedly has some of the most terrifying and remarkable imagery that has been assembled on the screen. A lot has been achieved in this show by using the halls of the house as basic elements for the heartbreak, the confusion and the intensity of the characters. The house plays an extraordinary role as an observer by opening and closing the doors to people who are often overwhelmed by the grandiosity of the resplendent and the brick chandeliers.
The exterior of the house is shown as grand and inviting while the interior is dull and is full of bitter and vengeful souls. Flanagan said that he has spent a lot of time in creating the layout of the house by acquainting with the viewer with every corner and nook with his camera. The 6th episode is where the presence of the series matches with the past as Crain family is seen with understated glory. It happens to be the favorite episode of the series in terms of vision and the risk that they have taken to shoot it as well. The time taken to shoot the 16-minute marathon scene when there are no lights in the funeral home and when Hugh is taken back to the stormy night in the Hill House is about 15 days. It is said that the team has taken around twenty pages of the script and has spun it in order to make it one of the greatest feats in history. The house is central to many successes and with the wide colonial architecture of the house, with the spooky setting it has created the paranoia that is required for us to conspire. Olivia’s illness is another result of the house’s vice making it an important tool in Flanagan’s storytelling.
Like the rest of the story, the ending of the series is pretty complex and extremely satisfying as it poses more questions than giving answers. The final episode is shown to have the family reunite in the house despite the grownups being trapped with their worst fears. Hugh, the father sacrifices himself in order to save the children and as Steven walks out of the house for the last time, he doesn’t look back at the ocean of the spirits that shadow him. The Crain family is now hugely divided where Olivia, Hugh, and Nellie leave as spirits while the rest of the family are still in blood and bones. In the earlier episode of the show, we see Luke being extremely distraught about losing Nellie and goes back in order to burn the house. He takes take Theo’s jeep and Shirley’s card and rushes out in an emergency. The family is brought in action and is brought back to the house despite his efforts being in vain. He is summoned by his mother’s ghost and is further injected with the rat poison that she tried to mix in the tea when he was a kid. When Hugh and Steven arrive into the room, Hugh sees that the Red Room is open and Steven listens to Luke seeking help. Therefore, he is drawn to the room and gets trapped like him. When he wakes up, we see all the five siblings are in the Red Room and Nellie then explains them about its ability to morph into any room based on the occupant.
The ending humanizes the series in many ways and is apparently the demonic house. It is shown that it is a resting place for people who have suffered immensely in life while making them a part of the house. Hugh who has selflessness and with pure intentions get doubted by the children especially Steven but is shown as the most compassionate character of the family. His sacrifice makes things compulsory by her persistence of keeping the family together and therefore hurts Olivia for the children that he has loved through his life. As a father, he has been utterly misunderstood while he could have just told the truth and has gotten away. Hugh has chosen to protect the kids at the cost of severing their relationship with them. He then enters into the house as a person who hasn’t received any problem that he could not fix. As time passed, it is revealed that Thomas’ blue eyes have turned to Hutton’s gray and we see the Hugh Crain has pulled himself away from the children so that the events that are haunting him won’t haunt them anymore. Flanagan has told us in an interview that there is a happy ending for everything.
“As far as I’ve ever been concerned with this, the story of the Crain family is told. It’s done. I think that there are all sorts of different directions we could go in, with the house or with something completely different. I love the idea of an anthology as well. But to me, I felt like the Crains have been through enough, and we left them exactly as we all wanted to remember them, those of us who worked on it. We toyed with a cliffhanger ending and we toyed with other ideas, but ultimately, in the writers’ room and with the cast and everything else, we really felt like the story demanded a certain kind of closure from us and we were happy to close the book on that family”.
The series is not just spooky, outrageous and intriguing but is extremely rich in the screenplay. The Haunting of the Hill House is one of the triumphant horror series that retold the classic by Shirley Jackson in a totally different way. It benefits us from the passion and vision of the auter Mike Flanagan with a talented cast and brilliant performances. For anyone who wants to dive into an intense screenplay, this is the best series to watch in recent times. Haven’t watched yet? Grab sometime this weekend, get a tub of popcorn and sit for a marathon. You’re going to be immensely overwhelmed by it. I assure you!