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Series / The Haunting of Hill House (2018)
aka: The Haunting Of Hill House

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Present and past collide in Hill House.note 

"There's a lot you don't know. I thought I could keep you kids safe if you didn't know, but for twenty years I've been holding the door closed because I knew there were monsters on the other side, do you understand me?"
Hugh Crain

The Haunting of Hill House is a psychological and supernatural horror series by Netflix, loosely adapted from the novel of the same name by Shirley Jackson. It premiered in October 2018. Every episode was written and directed by Mike Flanagan.

Twenty-six years ago, residential contractor Hugh Crain and his architect wife Olivia decided to try to remodel and flip a century-old mansion known as Hill House. They moved in early in the summer along with their five children (Steve, Shirley, Theodora, Luke, and Nell), and that's when things immediately started to get bizarre. Because it turns out that the House has a history of deaths and disappearances...

The story flips between the past and the present-day, as those who escaped the House many years ago struggle to cope with the aftermath... particularly when someone in the family is called back to the structure and the Crain family becomes entangled with it all over again.

Not to be confused with House on Haunted Hill or its remake.

With its renewal for a second season, the show was retooled into an Anthology series, with each season of The Haunting focusing on a different haunted house. The second season, The Haunting of Bly Manor, is an adaptation of the novel The Turn of the Screw and Henry James more broadly. Though not premiering under the Haunting title, The Fall of the House of Usher (2023) is the third installment, adapting Edgar Allan Poe works.

The main characters:

  • Hugh Crain: A housing contractor and all-around "fix-it" guy, whose intentions to fix and flip Hill House led his family into the situation it became trapped in.
  • Olivia Crain: A talented architect, gifted with a bit of sensitivity to the supernatural — something she passed down to several of her children.
  • Steven Crain: The eldest Crain sibling and a successful writer, who always wants to do his best to help. Whether his help actually helps is another matter.
  • Shirley Crain: The Crains' eldest daughter, a mortician who runs a struggling funeral home with her husband.
  • Theodora (Theo) Crain: The Crains' middle daughter, gifted (or burdened) with clairvoyance - she "just knows" things by touching something with her bare skin. She tries to control her ability by wearing gloves at all times.
  • Luke Crain: The youngest Crain son, Nell's (older) twin. He spent years self-medicating with drugs to keep his demons at bay. He's trying to get clean and do right by his family.
  • Eleanor (Nell) Crain: The youngest Crain daughter, Luke's (younger) twin, who is being haunted by a entity she calls the Bent-Neck Lady.

And last but not least:

  • Hill House: The House often seems a character in its own right, turning and manipulating situations and people to achieve its own ends.

Tropes Used:

  • Adaptation Distillation: Due to the major overhaul and rewriting of the novel's original plot, Dr. Montague, one of the central characters in the book, is relegated to a One-Scene Wonder as Nell's therapist (played by Russ Tamblyn, who was Luke in the original 1963 film, no less).
  • Adaptation Expansion: The book takes place over about a couple of months maximum with one protagonist; the story expands this to be about a whole family over more than twenty years.
  • Adaptational Heroism:
    • While it is a loose adaptation, the Dudleys are kept intact in their roles as caretakers of the house. In the book, they're Creepy Housekeepers who give the protagonists vague warnings and seem like they're actually trying to scare them. Here they're shown in a much kinder light, and given extremely sympathetic backstories. Their first child was still born, and their second is eventually murdered by Olivia.
  • Agent Scully: The oldest two of the children, Steve and Shirley, are this. They likely took their cues from their father, who was this too, at first.
  • Aloof Dark-Haired Girl: Both Shirley and Theo in the present. Notably Nell has lighter hair than them and doesn't have this personality.
  • Anachronic Order: The series begins with establishing the presence of the Bent-Neck Lady, then jumps forward to events in the present day. The remainder of the series elaborates on how things are progressing in the present and how the past led to those current-day events. Lampshaded by Ghost!Nell.
  • Arc Number: Seven. There are seven members of the Crain family. Luke's self-protection number, that he repeatedly counts to as a child and shows to Nell, is seven.
  • Arc Words: Variations on "Home," such as "Come home", "Welcome home", "Forever home" and "I am home."
    • Also variations on “We need to keep our children here, safe from the outside world.” All the parents seen in the house seem to reach this conclusion. Of course, this line of thinking is a death sentence for all involved.
    • "I can fix this!" is Hugh's personal mantra, which he generally fails to achieve at least until his Heroic Sacrifice in the last episode. His children repeat it at various instances.
  • The Bad Guy Wins: While the remaining Crains do end up united in the end after everything they've endured and suffered, the House remains standing with Nell, Hugh, Olivia and all the rest of its captives.
  • Barefoot Loon:
    • Once Olivia's sanity begins deteriorating she ceases wearing footwear almost entirely.
    • Poppy, who was diagnosed as insane in life, is now conspicuously barefoot as an insane ghost.
    • Inverted with Luke, who gets picked up by Steve wearing no shoes and appearing generally unstable - but he has simply been robbed and is suffering symptoms from "sharing" Nell's death through their Twin Telepathy connection.
  • Big Bad: Hill House itself, arguably, although a case can be made for Poppy, the most malevolent ghost, who influences much of the tragedy that befalls the Crains and directly tries to make them "wake up" in the final episode; only Nell's interference stops her scheming. Played with in that the show also presents the house in a bittersweet, even hopeful light in the finale, allowing a bereaved family to at last become whole together in death.
  • Big Storm Episode: The apty titled "Two Storms" focuses on two storms the family members were together for — one during their time in Hill House, and the other that rages outside during Nell's funeral.
  • Bittersweet Ending: The living Crains manage to face their problems and move forward with their lives, but the House still stands with Nell, Hugh and Olivia and all the rest of its captives. The Dudleys are also wrapped up in its spell, becoming dedicated to living their afterlives in the house to be with their ghost children. The Crains and Dudleys even resolve to keep the House standing to preserve those inside.
  • Body Horror: There’s just something about the open casket preparations in episode 2. Its milder than you’ll see in a lot of shows, and its about as mundane as it gets, but somehow, that just seems to make it so much worse.
    • In the finale, Shirley goes through a house-induced hallucination in which a mortician explains to her in excruciating, exacting, grotesque detail just what "preparing a body for a funeral" means. It's a dark reprise of a scene earlier in the series, where the same mortician treats a young Shirley with compassion and decency on the day of her mother's funeral.
  • Book Ends: The show opens with narration from Steve's Hill House book, ending with the line "And those who walk there, walk alone". However, the show ends with a similar narration, but the line ends with "And those who walk there, walk together".
  • Blame Game: Everybody blames each other for everything and it volleys back several times for everything.
  • Break the Cutie: All of the Crain children, but especially Nell. Dear God, Nell.
  • Butterfly of Death and Rebirth: Luke's first Red Room vision in the finale shows him before a painting of a blue butterfly hanging on the wall. Indeed the House manages to kill him, but Nell succeeds in bringing him back to life.
  • Butt-Monkey:
    • Poor Nell. She gets married, everything is looking great and then it all just implodes. Then she dies. Then her spirit is held hostage by the house.
    • Luke is this as well: as a child, nobody believes his various claims of having a friend named Abigail or having encounters with ghosts, and as an adult, he's the family Black Sheep due to addiction. In his own episode, he breaks out of rehab to help a friend, only to have her steal his money and abandon him in a less than savoury part of town, which leads to him getting beaten up and robbed of his jacket and shoes. As if this weren't enough, he keeps seeing a ghost from his childhood, and without knowing it feels Nell's death through their psychic connection.
  • Call-Back: A lot of lines are said in the show only to be brought back episodes later, most notably Olivia's speech about a dining room in the Crain's "forever house" being its "heart". Nell brings this back in the final episode where she reveals the Red Room isn't Hill House's heart: It's the stomach.
  • Cassandra Truth: The twins try to convey the supernatural dangers of the House to their parents and aren't believed, because clearly they are just small children with overactive imaginations.
  • Casting Gag:
  • Catapult Nightmare: The pilot has an impressive 4-way version when the siblings are startled at night because Nellie went to the Red Room.
  • Celebrity Paradox:
  • Central Theme: Everyone is haunted by something, but it's not always a spirit or apparition—it can be fear, trauma, anger, or any number of other things. To cope with these, we must revisit our past to find out where the haunting began, and reconcile it with our difficulties in the present. For the Crain family, the actual haunting of Hill House kicked off a Trauma Conga Line, causing the family immense strain in their relationships with one another and the world around them. It was only by returning to Hill House that some of the family could move forward with their lives.
  • Character Focus: The first five episodes focus on the perspective of one of the siblings (in order from oldest to youngest). Episodes 7 and 9 focus on Hugh and Olivia respectively.
  • Chekhov's Gun: Many seemingly innocuous things are later revealed to have played huge roles. Even the parts so small and subtle you completely forgot about them get brought up and put into new light.
  • Contraception Deception: Steven never told his wife that he had gotten a vasectomy before they met, despite knowing she wanted kids. In the epilogue, she's shown to be pregnant, indicating that Steven had the vasectomy reversed.
  • Cool House: Some of the design features of Hill House are amazing; if only it wasn’t an Eldritch Location.
  • Cool Aunt: Theo to her niece Allie, much like she used to be the Cool Big Sis for the twins when they were children.
  • Costume Copycat: Shirley's daughter Allie is seen walking around wearing gloves indoors, mirroring her aunt Theo. Shirley claims Allie begged her to buy them, which Allie, wanting to be as cool as her aunt, denies indignantly.
  • Creepy Dollhouse:
    • Shirley has a model of the "forever home" her mother drafted (to be built after they had flipped and sold Hill House) in her office. At the end of her Character Focus episode, its porch light flickers twice— the signal Olivia used to call the children back home before dark.
    • Theo also often uses a dollhouse to help her child patients express their pain, which often turns them into this.
  • Cue the Rain: Shirley says she changed all the lightbulbs because she wouldn't be able to change them tomorrow, during Nell's funeral. Then the storm starts and eventually cuts out the power altogether.
  • Cutting Back to Reality: Three notable instances of this appear in the episode "The Bent-Neck Lady": here, Nell returns to the house and is quickly ensnared by an illusion of the house in its heyday, eventually being lured into a dance with a ghostly simulacra of her husband... and then the camera cuts away to reveal that Nell is dancing alone through the ruined house. Shortly afterwards, Nell is invited upstairs to a tea party by Olivia, and is finally given the locket she was promised so long ago. Suddenly, Nell looks down, realizing that something is wrong: cut back to reality where it turns out that Nell is on the wrong side of the staircase railing, poised to fall - and the locket is actually a noose around her neck. Ignoring her daughter's pleas, Olivia pushes her off the edge and out of the illusion; in the next cut, Nell jolts to a stop in the real world.
  • Dark Is Not Evil:
    • Most of the ghosts of Hill House seem to be this. While they are terrifying and creepy spirits, 80% of the time they seem more or less trying to scare the Crains into leaving the House. This is apparent with Hazel Hill, William Hill, the clock man and many others (Edward Hill as well despite attacking Luke). The most violent spirits seem to be Poppy Hill, who pushes Olivia into trying to murder her children and later on Olivia herself, although due to the manipulations of Poppy and the House.
    • After The Reveal, the Bent-Neck Lady retrospectively falls under this trope. At first she seems to be this scary, malevolent figure terrorizing poor Nell, but once you know that she is Nell, suddenly the sight of that decaying lady with the broken neck just becomes sad. For her part, she also actively works to protect her family from the House.
  • Darker and Edgier: The series is loosely tied to the “The Haunting” movie concept. Its characters and themes are significantly darker, especially with its less paranormal pieces.
  • A Day in the Limelight:
    • The opening episodes each focus on a different member of the Crain family, showing both events from their childhood and what is going on in their adult lives during the events leading up to Nell's death. Likewise, episode 7 focuses on Hugh.
    • Episode 9 focuses on Olivia, taking place completely in the past. It covers the events leading up to the fateful night where she nearly kills her own children (and did kill the Dudleys' daughter) before killing herself.
  • De-aged in Death: Some of the ghosts in the titular Hill House do this. Child and young adult ghosts remain the same age, but two elderly characters revert to their younger selves as ghosts. Mrs. Dudley is one of them, as she reverts to the age she was when she lost her daughter Abigail, and it's implied her husband will follow suit when his time comes. Hugh Crane does the same thing, reverting to the age he was when his wife Olivia succumbed to the influence of the House and died.
  • A Death in the Limelight: Downplayed in that both characters are known to have died thanks to the non-linear structure. But Nell's central episode ends with her death, as does Olivia's.
  • Dead All Along: Inverted with a twist: Early on, young Luke talks about and draws his friend Abigail, who Steve calls "imaginary", and who the audience is led to believe is one of the many ghosts. Turns out she was alive and real the whole time... until Olivia poisons her during a tea party. Even then, the audience might still be fooled into thinking she's a ghost or a shared mind-screw vision attending the tea party, until the scene with the Dudleys discovering her body. Surprise! Olivia really did murder a little girl.
  • Death Glare: Theo lands a pretty icy one on a client's foster parent after she shakes his hand, using her psychometric powers to confirm he raped the girl.
  • Death of a Child:
    • The Dudleys' first child was stillborn after Clara continued working for the Hills during her pregnancy, and it's strongly implied it was killed by the house.
    • The final episode reveals that an increasingly unhinged Olivia tried to poison the twins to spare them the horrors of living in the world; she is stopped by Hugh, but tragically succeeds in killing Abigail, the second daughter of the Dudleys.
    • It's implied that both of Poppy Hill's children died young, much to her despair.
  • Demoted to Extra:
    • Hill House. Make no mistake, this is a character-driven story. Defying horror convention, characters themselves are smart enough to leave the house after the events of their past. The adult characters stay outside the house most of the episodes.
    • Nell is the first to die in the modern timeframe and doesn’t get as much screen time as her counterparts in the earlier versions of this story.
  • Distant Finale: Subverted! The finale opens with what appears to be a Time Skip where Steve is writing a sequel book based on the present timeline's events, and Leigh is now pregnant (with Luke apparently having died in the house) but it's really just a hallucination in the Red Room.
    • Played straight at the end of the episode, which shows the characters a couple of years down the line having finally earned their happy ending.
  • Does This Remind You of Anything?: The series uses different filming styles in its episodes which call back to other movies and video games with dark themes.
    • Episode 6 uses long continuous shots, with a lot of background details shifting around. This is reminiscent of The Shining and Children of Men.
    • Periodically, some scenes use perspectives that look like significantly updated versions of the FMV sequences from games such as The 7th Guest and Phantasmagoria.
  • Death of a Child: Poppy's ghost tried to convince Olivia to kill her children. She didn't succeed but she did with the Dudleys' daughter.
  • Door Handle Scare: The scene in the pilot when the upset father comes to his son's room at Hill House and locks the door behind him. Then we get a close-up on the door handle as it turns slowly left and right.
  • The Dragon: Of all the ghosts, Poppy seems to be the one who most aggressively aids the house in acting against the living.
  • Dream Emergency Exit: Nell suffers from sleep paralysis linked to apparitions of the Bent-Neck Lady. She and her husband Arthur figure out how to signal to wake herself up — by twitching her hand, she wakes him up, and he reassures her that they are together and turns on the light. It gets tragically interrupted when Arthur dies of a brain aneurysm while turning on the light, and Nell is stuck in sleep paralysis watching him.
  • Dreaming of Things to Come Olivia is so tortured by her nightmares and visions of her youngest children dying that she takes advice from a ghost about how to protect them. This leads her to attempt to serve them poisoned tea as a way of helping them "wake up" from their nightmares, Hugh's worst fears.
  • Driven to Suicide:
    • Implied with Olivia. Poppy's hand reaches out to push her, but she falls before Poppy ever touches her. It's possible Olivia was trying to wake up, acting on a suggestion from Poppy.
    • Seems to be what happened to Nell, but it was actually the House and Olivia.
  • Dumbwaiter Ride: Theo and Luke discover a dumbwaiter in the house and decide to mess around in it. Luke ends up in a mysterious basement room and discovers a frightening creature.
  • Dying as Yourself: In the final episode Hugh and the Dudleys die while elderly but their ghosts are of their younger selves.
  • Dysfunction Junction: The Crains stayed pretty knit together, but their experiences at Hill House drove them apart and they all seem to hate each other. It was made worse when Steve decided to publish a book about their experiences at Hill House and isolated himself from much of his family.
  • Earn Your Happy Ending: And how. The surviving Crains fight like hell to make it out of Hill House to their epilogue scenes.
  • Eldritch Location: Hill House itself, very much. But none moreso than the Red Room. It's a place that becomes whatever the user needs—until it's inhabited by Poppy, a malevolent spirit that infects it with black mold and uses it against the protagonists.
  • Electromagnetic Ghosts: Lights, flashlights, and cell phones all have trouble operating normally when spiritual phenomena associated with Hill House are in the vicinity.
  • Ethereal White Dress: After their deaths, Olivia and Nell occasionally appear in the others' visions in cream nightdresses.
  • Falling Chandelier of Doom: In the sixth episode, the audience is yanked into Hugh's flashback by the jarring sound of Hill House's old chandelier crashing to the floor during a storm.
  • Family Disunion: The surviving Crain family members are not on the best of terms at the start of the show, and all reunite when the youngest sibling, Nell, dies. This is lampshaded.
    Shirley: That's funny, Nellie was always trying to get all of us together in one place. Even Dad tried for years.
    Theo: Someone should've told her she didn't have to try this hard.
  • First-Episode Twist: The end of the first episode reveals that Nell has killed herself in the house.
  • Foreshadowing:
    • In one episode, Olivia jokingly tells Hugh that she psychically foresees hanging bodies if he doesn't take care of the loose ropes hanging on the edge of the spiral staircase. Years later, Nell hangs herself with one of the ropes.
    • In a flashback, when Olivia is looking for Luke, Steve tells her to check the treehouse, and her response is "very funny, young man." This hints that there is no treehouse, and that Luke is actually spending time in the Red Room.
    • Multiple times, one of the kids will find something in a room they like to spend time in. When they tell someone where they found it, i.e. the game room, family room, etc, someone will ask "Which room?" Each of those rooms was actually the Red Room changing to suit their needs, but the house made them not realize it.
    • The rooms that the various house members enjoy hanging out in all are roughly the same size and shape, even Luke's treehouse. It's because they are all the same room, despite being decorated differently in each instance. Eagle-eyed viewers will notice a narrow window in the center of one wall that each of these rooms share — even Luke's treehouse.
  • Freeze-Frame Bonus:
    • The marble statues in the hallway. Their heads change direction between shots.
    • A close look at the book Olivia is reading in her reading room shows that it's Coraline. The main conflict in that story is between a young girl and the "Other Mother" who looks like her mom but wants to do horrible things to her in order to keep her with her in her other dimension. Also, when Nell's body is in the casket, Olivia's ghost puts buttons on her eyes: the Other Mother wanted to replace Coraline's eyes with buttons.
  • Ghostly Death Reveal: In the first episode, Steven Crain walks into his apartment to find that his sister Nell is waiting for him there. Given that Nell's been trying to call various family members for the past twenty-four hours, Steve is eager to find out what's wrong... but she can only stare mournfully at him in total silence. At that moment, their father calls, revealing that Nell made a nighttime journey to the eponymous Haunted House and is now dead of an apparent suicide. Horrified, Steven turns around - and finds that Nell is now standing behind him, screaming.
  • Ghostly Wail: Nell's attempts to communicate as a ghost only come through as distorted groans and wails, coupled with a Ghostly Gape. Zig-zagged in the finale when Nell gathers enough presence of mind to speak clearly.
  • Happily Married: Olivia and Hugh (despite a brief two-week snag), Nell and Arthur through their tragically brief marriage, and the Dudleys all seem to be this, despite all the horrors they each face.
  • Hereditary Suicide: Olivia Crain committed suicide after being left alone in the eponymous Haunted House; by the end of the first episode, her youngest daughter Nell apparently does the same, hanging herself from the very same landing that Liv jumped from. When Nell's twin brother Luke goes missing following the funeral, Theo is immediately concerned that he might be planning to commit suicide as well - though he's actually set out to burn down Hill House. Plus, despite Steve's obsessive belief in the family's inherited mental illness, it turns out that the "suicides" were due to the House's influence.
  • Heroic Sacrifice: Hugh makes a deal with his wife's ghost - open the door to the Red Room to let their surviving children go free, and he will make sure that she is never alone again.
  • History Repeats: Each family that lives at or near the House is affected with hauntings and supernatural tragedies, including the Hills, the Crains, and the Dudleys. The Dudleys, in particular, have witnessed enough to spot the patterns. Judging by the veritable army of ghosts standing in the foyer near the end of Episode 10, the House practically collects people. It is hungry, after all...
  • Horror Doesn't Settle for Simple Tuesday: A downplayed example. Nell's funeral, and everything that happens after, including the climax of the story, all happen on Halloween. It's easy to forget this however, as the only time it comes up is when Kevin takes the kids trick or treating, and shortly after Shirley has to deal with what she initially thinks are obnoxious trick or treaters.
  • In Name Only: Although it does retain Hill House and many names, most of the show is completely original. For example, the Crains are all dead in Jackson's book and Hugh Crain is a single father with only two daughters, Nell leaves her family (who don't appear again), none of the characters are related in the adaptation.
  • Irony: Shirley sees her sister Theo apparently trying to kiss her husband, without his resistance. She remains furious at them for several episodes, only for the reveal that the vision of the toasting man she has repeatedly been seeing was a guy she cheated with years earlier.
  • Jump Scare: What else would you expect in a supernatural thriller? Special mention goes to Mr. Smiley, who shows up to torment Theo in a vision. After two episodes of people mentioning terrifying apparitions that never show up, it's a shock to see one finally make an on-screen appearance (albeit as a hallucination rather than an actual ghost).
  • Juxtaposed Reflection Poster: One of the posters shows the five adult Crain siblings next the titular creepy house. The mirror image below them is of their younger selves from the time they lived in said creepy house.
  • Kill It with Fire: What Luke tries to do in the present-day. The House (or rather Olivia) refuses to let him.
  • Lighter and Softer: In some ways, especially the ending.
    • The book ends with Eleanor's death while everyone else escapes, while Eleanor's all pervading loneliness and misery before she dies is switched around with Nell gracefully and heroically saying goodbye to her family.
    • The Crain family, or more specifically the patriarch, was a horrific abuser who is also implied to have sexually abused his daughters. In this version, the Crains are a very loving, albeit flawed family, and they manage to get through it all together, only losing their parents and Nell.
  • Lotus-Eater Machine: The Red Room. Notably though, it doesn't try very hard to keep its targets stuck in happy dreams. When they figure out that where they are is fake, which they all do pretty fast, it decides to horrify them instead. It is only due to Nell that they are able to get out.
  • Maybe Magic, Maybe Mundane: As with many of the best horror stories, there are factors at play to give skeptics material to try and rationalize the supernatural events, in this case the Crain family's history of mental illness and the presence of black mold all through Hill House.
  • Meanwhile, in the Future…: Each episode in the first season follows the Crane siblings in the present time, but the B-plot of almost all episodes are flashbacks of their time as children in the titular haunted house, and are slowly telling the events that led to their mother's mysterious death.
  • Mind Screw:
    • The series is thick with it, and it shows through the slow decline of each family member's mental well-being. Note that it isn't a family mental illness (despite Steve trying to convince himself of that), so much as a slow trauma and terror-induced breakdown. Though, of course, the House is invoking this in them on purpose.
    • The cinematography conveys this quite well. There are plenty of jump scares, but some of the eerier effects are accomplished by visions of the undead appearing to slide in and out of frames, sometimes only shown in background shots before disappearing again.
    • Another subtle way of invoking it is in the episode lengths. Instead of them all being a standard length, they range from 42 to 71 minutes, which is a great way of helping the viewers lose their sense of time.
    • And yet another: in Episode 8, there's a blink-and-you'll miss it scene that's flipped. Most viewers won't consciously spot it, but might feel like something is off. Note: watch the light switches carefully. There's at least one scene where it's on the wrong side of the door.
    • Plays with this trope in regards to The Red Room. Hugh and Liv spend half of the season trying to understand how the Red Room could be at the end of the hall on top of the spiral stairs near the library if there's no support for it, making them wonder how it should even exist.
  • Mood Whiplash: Nell's dance at her wedding, with the soft lighting, beautiful song, and everyone looking so happy, is followed immediately by a terrifying sleep paralysis episode, Arthur's sudden death by brain aneurysm, and The Bent-Neck Lady's reappearance. Even worse? The time stamp at the bottom says it's only been 8 months since the wedding.
  • Moving Beyond Bereavement: The Crain family spends most of the show mourning for Nell after she dies of an apparent suicide at the eponymous Haunted House; worse still, it ends up getting tangled up in their many, many personal issues along the way, including Steve's compulsive fear of mental illness, Shirley's Control Freak tendencies, Theo's emotional unavailability, Luke's drug addiction, and the conflicts between all of them - most of which are also due to unresolved grief over the death of their mother at Hill House. Their dysfunction proves so great that the family's attempt at a respectful late-night vigil for Nell is spent hurling insults at each other. Eventually, Luke tries to burn down Hill House and is nearly killed in retaliation, luring the entire family to the house in an attempt to rescue him; in the process, they confront their issues through illusions within the Red Room and meet with Nell's ghost long enough to say goodbye - allowing them to finally move on.
  • Mythology Gag:
    • Nell takes the last name of her husband Arthur upon marrying, becoming Eleanor Vance - just like her namesake in the original novel.
    • Luke's latest rehab stint takes place in the Sanderson Recovery Center. Sanderson is the last name of his book counterpart.
    • Shirley is named after the original novel's author, Shirley Jackson.
    • Nell's therapist is named Dr. Montague, after a central character in the book that the screenwriters were unable to work into this adaption.
    • This time Theo is the one who says the iconic line “Whose hand was I holding?”, when in the original Nell says it after finding out that it wasn’t Theo who was doing it.
    • In episode 9, Olivia tells a story about a rain of rocks when she was a child. In the book, that was Eleanor's first brush with the supernatural and why she came to Dr. Montague's attention.
    • Nell's enamored with a "cup of stars" throughout the series. In the book, her counterpart Eleanor runs into a family on her way to the house, where the little girl refused to drink milk if it wasn't in her "cup of stars". Eleanor silently cheers for her standing her ground.
    • The rhyme Poppy taunts Hugh with in the last episode was recited by Luke in the book, and also sung by the author Shirley Jackson to her children. It's also based on a real massacre.
  • Named by the Adaptation: The Dudleys didn't have their first names revealed in the book. Here they become Horace and Clara.
  • Nightmare Face:
    • Many of the apparitions that manifest inside Hill House.
    • Also, Theo's vision of Mr. Smiley.
  • Nightmarish Nursery: One of the rooms of the eponymous mansion is the Toy Room, where young Nelly can most commonly be found. In the flashbacks, it appears perfectly innocent, complete with rows of toys and a warm colour palette... but in the season finale, it turns out that the Toy Room doesn't exist. It's just another facade worn by the Red Room in order to lull the family members into submission while the House digests them.
  • Non-Linear Character:
    • Arguably, the way in which the House perceives — and can show people — time, as evidenced by Olivia seeing Nell's dead body on Shirley's future embalming table. Later, it uses Nell's and Luke's semblances, and accurate descriptions of how their lives will progress, to manipulate her into trying to "wake up" her children from the terrible world outside the House. It is not, however, The Omniscient — because although it showed Luke on the floor with the needle in his arm in Olivia's vision, that wasn't his ultimate fate.
    • This carries over into Nell after she dies. When she talks to her siblings in the Red Room, she's out of phase with them and muses to herself that time has become less like a line and more like "confetti." She eventually orients herself enough to speak with them.
  • Non Sequitur Environment: During one of the flashback sequences, Olivia suddenly finds herself being transported from her reading room to a morgue in the future. For good measure, it's currently occupied by two corpses - both of whom are recognizable to the audience as the adult forms of Luke and Nellie. And then the latter sits up and starts begging for help. Horror-stricken, Olivia takes a step backwards, trips, falls - and lands on the reading room floor.
  • The Nothing After Death: After being traumatized by Nell's ghost, Theo finally breaks down to Shirley and reveals that the reason she had made advances on Shirley's husband, Kevin, was because after Theo used her psychic touch on Nell's dead body, she suddenly became trapped in a horrific state of cold, dark numbness. She became desperate to feel anything at all, driving her to drink excessively; this desperation reached a fever pitch when the lights went out during a power outage, depriving Theo of sight and leaving her feeling like she was floating in a void of absolute nothingness. The experience was absolutely harrowing for her, and when the lights came back on, she saw Kevin and latched onto him like (in her words) "a life preserver in the ocean". This in turn flooded her with guilt and fear over her shameful actions, which finally jolted her out of the spell, and she professes to Shirley that, despite everything, she's glad she did it, because the alternative was just that much worse.
    Theo: That thorough fucking shame was so much better than that horrible, empty nothing!
  • Nothing Is Scarier: Quite a bit of the early episodes run on this trope. Wreaks havoc on your nerves if you’re genre savvy. Since you’re expecting a jump scare, the tension never goes away. Worse yet: in the introduction, there is NO jump scare, and therefore, the tension simply just keeps mounting.
  • Not His Sled: In previous versions of the story, including the original novel, Nell is the central protagonist and dies at the end. In this version she is one of five siblings who are all of equal importance and she dies at the end of the first episode.
  • Not Wanting Kids Is Weird: Steve reveals he had a vasectomy to avoid having kids because he didn't want to risk passing on the mental illness that (he thinks) runs in the family. Hugh treats this as a horrible fate and it causes trouble between him and Leigh, albeit more because he lied about the vasectomy and it got to the stage where they were seeking treatment for IVF (which is very expensive). After Steve and Leigh reconcile, a Flash Forward to two years later shows that she's pregnant.
  • Obviously Not Fine: In the episode "Witness Marks," a flashback reveals a key moment of Olivia Crain's Sanity Slippage was when Steve found her standing alone in the twins' bedroom, talking to herself. When Steve asked her what was wrong, Olivia assured him that she was fine - though the look of terrified uncertainty on her face said the exact opposite. The very next episode reveals that the House was actively messing with her head, showing her a vision of Luke and Nell explaining the future of depression, heroin addiction and death that awaits them.
  • Once More, with Clarity: A number of occurrences become far clearer when revisited in later episodes.
    • The revelation that the Bent-Neck Lady was Nelly's ghost all along, revisiting her younger, living self against her will.
    • In episode 1, when Hugh carries Steve from his bedroom to the entrance of the house, there is clearly something stumbling along behind, chasing them. Whatever it is is out of focus, and you assume it must be a ghost haunting the house. It's really a crazed limping Olivia trying to stop Hugh from taking their kids from the house.
    • In the first episode, Steve catches Luke leaving his apartment. He's shaking, out of rehab, and has stolen some of Steve's things. Steve comes to the obvious conclusion that Luke has relapsed. Episode 4 reveals Luke is still sober and the theft was an act of desperation to help a friend, framing him more sympathetically.
    • One episode opens before the credits with Nell and Shirley trying to unlock the Red Room with the house's master key. Another episode opens with Theo in a room by herself dancing with a video she is watching on a TV, when the doorknob to the room starts rattling before something bangs on the door. The last episode's opening shows that these two scenes were happening at the same time. Theo was in the Red Room, and the doorknob rattling and the banging on the door were Shirley trying to get inside.
  • The Oner:
    • Episode 6 is entirely built on this. Only five shots are used to assemble the whole episode, with one of them being 17 minutes long and shifting between the past and present with the aid of body doubles and a rigged set with elevators and hidden passages for the cast and crew.
    • Episode 7 has a pretty long take just of Horace Dudley telling Hugh about his family's past with Hill House. It just slowly zooms in on him over the entire story.
  • Open-Minded Parent: Olivia and Hugh correctly guessed that Theo was a lesbian when she was a child and were both perfectly okay with it.
  • The Ophelia: Both Olivia and Nell are like this. Like mother, like daughter, they're both pale, willowy women with flowing long hair, haunted eyes, and "crazy" behavior. Both of them are even more susceptible to the supernatural things happening in the House, and both of them die in white sleeping gowns.
  • Orbital Shot: Around Hugh Crain at one point in episode 6, to show his sons and daughters both as adults and children.
  • Otherworldly Communication Failure: The Crain family's childhood home is haunted by an array of spirits and much of the trauma the kids deal with as adults comes from the spirits' seemingly malevolent influence on their family. However, it is later revealed that most of the ghosts of Hill House, while terrifying and creepy, aren't malevolent and are more or less trying to scare the Crains into leaving the house because 1) there are some genuinely evil spirits that reside in there and 2) the house itself is an Eldritch Location that feeds off of the spirits trapped in it.
  • Poor Communication Kills: The entire Crain family seems to have this dysfunction. Each family member has secrets, and it seems to produce a near-allergic reaction whenever one of them demands answers from any of the others. Part of this could be because of the skeptics in the family, who tend to be dismissive of any discussion of the supernatural. Another part could be because of the walls of isolation each family member has built around themselves as they process their traumas and try to remain safe and sane.
  • Prophet Eyes: The series makes liberal use of this, as when the many ghost and undead people open their eyes, they're nearly always glowing white and blank. Now, whether this is because they're dead or because they're supernatural (or both) is anyone's guess...
  • Rape as Drama: Theo goes into the basement of Kelsey's foster home to investigate Mr. Smiley and psychically relives Kelsey's abuse at the hands of her foster father. Luckily CPS takes her word for it and the man is arrested that same day. It also helps that Theo knew the guy would fold like a cheap suit at the first sign of trouble.
  • Really Gets Around: Theo, in spades.
    Shirley: You're worse than a guy, you're like a frat guy! When I said you could live here, I wasn't expecting the pussy parade.
  • Related in the Adaptation: While Hugh Crain did have (only) two daughters, they were not Nell or Theo, and no sons. Luke was distantly related to the Crains, and all are completely separate characters. Here, they're all one big not-so-happy family.
  • Remake Cameo: Dr. Montague, Nell's therapist, is played by Russ Tamblyn, who played Luke in The Haunting (1963).
  • Reusable Lighter Toss: In episode 8, a lighter is tossed to start a fire at Hill House, but despite a pool of gas, it doesn't ignite.
  • The Reveal:
    • Everyone has been in the Red Room at one point or another. In fact, it shows up in nearly every character's episode, but always disguised as a different space. The one distinguishing feature is the narrow window in the center of one of the walls.
    • The House itself feeds by taking in the recently deceased and making them into spirits that walk its grounds. Hugh realized this when the Dudleys see their deceased daughter, Abigail (and later on Hugh seeing Olivia's ghost) walk the halls of the House.
    • The clock repairman in episode 8 was actually a ghost that Steve saw, but he didn't realize it.
    • Nell is the Bent-Neck Lady, haunting her past self in her final moments.
  • Rewatch Bonus: There are at least 27 ghosts hidden in the background, as confirmed by the director. This ranges from 0 ghosts in episodes 6 and 8 not counting the clock repairman to 9 ghosts in episode 3, plus an unknown amount in episode 10. Some of them may even the same ghost appearing multiple times, like a ghost in the kitchen door in both episode 3 and episode 9.
  • Right for the Wrong Reasons: Steve's book heavily suggested that his mother was clinically insane and that every one of her children may have inherited some part of that insanity. While he was right in pointing out that towards the end Olivia was driven to insanity, it wasn't due to any medical issues but because of the house itself and the ghosts. Not only that, but the "mental illness" they inherited was actually Olivia's sensitivity to the spirits.
  • Running Gag: Young Nell repeats a swear, gets told not to say that, and then points out "you just said that!"
  • Satellite Love Interest: Both Leigh and Trish exist entirely as partners for Steve and Theo respectively. While Shirley's husband Kevin has a little more involvement in the plot - and Nell's husband Arthur is really The Lost Lenore for her - those two have no development outside their love interest status.
    • The hallucination of Leigh conjured up by the house even lampshades this in the finale, sarcastically telling Steven that she was only really a "supporting character" in the grand drama of his life, wasn't she?
  • Screw Destiny: Despite dying in the first episode, Nell tries everything in her power to ensure that her siblings won't share her fate. Both she and Olivia have visions of Luke dying, and he does appear to die in the Red Room for a moment, but Nell's love for him and her sheer determination manage to bring him back from the freaking dead - which is one of the few victories that the Crains score.
  • Shapeshifting: The embodiment of the house appears in many forms throughout the Crain siblings' dreams in order to get them to let their guards down and mess with their minds in the Red Room. It appears as: Joey to Luke, The cheating lover with Shirley, and Trish to Theo. Showing that, on some level, the house is ultimately sentient and outright cruel when it wants to feed.
  • Shout-Out: To Daredevil: Shirley's son Jayden desperately wants a Daredevil costume for Halloween, and is finally seen wearing Matt Murdock's first season getup for Trick-or-Treating.
  • Shown Their Work: a lot.
    • The police interview / interrogation in episode 7 is amazingly accurate. Rather than intimidate the witness / suspect, like most shows portray, instead they try to elicit a voluntary confession, which would wreck the suspect’s defense.
    • The homeownership (minus the ghosts) horrors are depressingly accurate.
  • The Shrink: Theo is a therapist specializing in children, and apparently very good (her powers certainly help). Dr. Montague is Nell's psychologist — he falls into the "Well-Meaning, But Dopey and Ineffectual" category.
  • Sickening "Crunch!":
    • The sound Olivia's body makes when she hits the library floor. Headfirst.
    • Also, to a lesser extent, the sound Nell's neck makes when it snaps.
  • So Happy Together: Nell and Arthur have just over six months of happiness (which is compressed over about ten minutes), before he dies from an aneurysm.
  • Starts with a Suicide: The current day events start with Nell killing herself at Hill House. Except she didn't really commit suicide, she was killed by the house.
  • Super Multi-Purpose Room: The secret of the Red Room, a la the Room of Requirement from Harry Potter.
  • The Three Faces of Eve: The three Crain daughters:
    • Shirley is the mother, as the oldest sister who is also literally married with kids and is put in the position of looking after her younger siblings such as paying for Luke's rehab;
    • Theo is the seductress, as the highly sexual All Gays are Promiscuous-classic lesbian who sleeps around on a nightly basis but refuses to form any longterm relationships;
    • Nell is the child. Although she's already been married (and widowed), she remains extremely vulnerable, gentle, and sweet.
  • Time Master: The House really screws around with time in order to get what it wants. The ghost of Nell is plunged into the past to terrorize her younger self as the Bent Neck Lady, setting her on the path to eventually die in the House. It also shows Olivia scenes of the future with her children suffering from depression and dying, but without crucial context, leading to Olivia going insane and traumatizing her children.
  • Twin Telepathy: Twins Luke and Nell have a sense for the other's emotions and pain, often expressing itself in dreams and shared sensations.
  • Undead Barefooter: Olivia and Poppy both walk the halls of the House barefoot as ghosts.
  • Unnervingly Heartwarming:
    • In episode 5, "The Bent-Neck Lady," Nelly's dance with Arthur appears to be a heartwarming moment of husband and wife re-enacting their wedding party, complete with Heavenly Day playing in the background. Trouble is, Arthur died months ago, and the whole thing takes place in an illusion cooked up by Hill House to keep Nelly complacent; the heartwarming elements are frequently undermined by the camera Cutting Back to Reality - revealing that Nelly is dancing alone through the ruined house. Plus, the big Orbital Kiss reveals that the illusions of Nelly's family are being subtly replaced by the ghosts of Hill House...
    • In the series finale, Luke is unexpectedly reunited with Abigail, Nelly and his mother in a surprisingly adorable scene. However, something's immediately off: his mother seems a little too eager to keep him pacified, Nelly keeps whispering "don't" and "go," and Luke's growing alarm undercuts any sentimentality of the moment. Luke is temporarily dead in this scene, and the heavenly setting is another attempt by the House to keep him calm while it devours him.
  • Unwitting Instigator of Doom: Nell's therapist meant well when he told her she'd feel better if she took a trip to the house so she could see it's "just a carcass", but taking his advice got her killed and led to Hugh having to sacrifice himself to save her siblings from the same fate.
  • Wham Episode: Six is particularly hard-hitting. It has the appearance of only being cut three times, which almost makes the episode real-time. The family finally starts discussing what’s really going on, and this means plot bombs left and right.
  • Wham Line:
    • "I never built you kids a tree house!"
    • "I know you saw a ghost... the man repairing the clock."
    • "The Red Room! It's open!"
    • "I feel I've been here before..." "We have."
  • Wham Shot: Several, but one of the most memorable has to be Nell's body falling and then jerking to a stop.
  • Who's Watching the Store?: Mr and Mrs Dudley mention that they homeschool their daughter themselves. But they work from sunrise to sundown at Hill House.

"Forgiveness is warm, like a tear on a cheek. Think of it and of me when you stand in the rain. I loved you completely, and you loved me the same. That's all. Everything else is confetti."
Eleanor "Nell" Crain Vance


Video Example(s):

Alternative Title(s): The Haunting Of Hill House


Nelly's Dance

Apparently reunited with her husband at Hill House, Nelly enjoys a heartwarming dance through the building... only for cut to reveal that Nelly has been ensnared by the house's illusions, in reality, she's dancing alone in the ruined corridors.

How well does it match the trope?

5 (3 votes)

Example of:

Main / CuttingBackToReality

Media sources: