A beautiful mansion amongst the hills, a family of five siblings and their parents moving in- sounds like the perfect setting for a Gothic horror? The Haunting of Hill House, a series based on a 1959 novel by Shirley Jackson is so much more than that. At surface level this is a traditional horror story about each member of the family coming across supernatural phenomena and trying to overcome them. The thing about Gothic horror is that it has lesser jump scares and longer moments of dread– which is definitely eerier.
The story moves back and forth in time from their childhood and their stay at the house to their current life. Through this timeline, the horrific events happened during that one summer they spent in Hill House is revealed. Each sibling and even the parents experience the ghosts differently. Their interaction with the supernatural is very personal and they are pushed deeper into their psychological terrors.
A metaphor for trauma
Although the show has sufficient elements of a psychological thriller, grief and trauma are the underlying themes that are so prominent once you take a closer look. As the show progresses, it comes as a shocking revelation that the Hill House itself could be a metaphor for pain and trauma. The house is very good at distorting reality. Like I mentioned earlier, no member of the family experiences the ghosts in the same way. The same events are perceived differently by everyone and the reasons are explored too.
“It watches,” he added suddenly. “The house. It watches every move you make.”
The children after growing up are screaming examples of what happens when trauma is left unexplored and buried. They carry their demons with them into adulthood because, well the effects of trauma cannot be escaped. They manifest themselves in terrible ways.
“A ghost can be a lot of things. A memory, a daydream, a secret. Grief, anger, guilt. But, in my experience, most times they’re just what we want to see.”
Mental illness- no longer a euphemism
Popular culture often portrayed mental illness in a very sinister way through the dark and dingy psychiatric homes such as in American Horror Story- Asylum, or dangerous psychopaths with traumatic childhoods like in Hannibal Lecter who all very well fit into identifiable symptoms of mental disorders. This show uses a different method altogether- to portray mental illness very explicitly, while making use of the supernatural. The characters see ghosts but there is always a realist who tells them they’re imagining it all, much like how the stigma around mental health makes a lot of us live in denial. The loneliness that comes with this stigma is deafening and frightening.
The show does its best to give words, emotions and most importantly evocative visuals to mental illness- the lack of which is one of the main reasons mental health is swept under the carpet, never to be addressed.
“All those colors. They’re all gone now, Hugh. And there’s only one left. I’m scared. That’s all I am. There’s nothing left. I’m only scared.”
It is a show with plots that are nothing short of complicated- similar to the human mind dealing with several stages of trauma. The Haunting at Hill House plays with genres precariously; switching between the Gothic setting and modern 21st century, downright terrifying scares to grief in a family drama, and this I feel took away the clichéd effect that typical horror shows have, thereby making it a satisfyingly cathartic experience.
The ending leaves us wondering if all the events are supernatural or purely manifestations of a traumatized mind. Mental health for long has been an uncertain battle and drawing a similarity between it and horror is a very fascinating way to bring about social awareness around the topic.
My rating for this show and its portrayal of mental health:
This post is a part of Blogchatter’s initiative to spread awareness around Mental Health. If my analysis of this show interested you, you might also want to check out more books, shows and movies that talk about mental health here.