‘I’ve seen a lot of ghosts. Just not the way you think. 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. Most times, a ghost is a wish.’ – Steven Crain
It was not often but my family relocated to new places when I was a kid. Every time that happened, I remember having mixed feelings, of excitement, anticipation, a thrill of the unknown. These feelings were most likely different for the different members of the family. But one thing I never experienced, or for that matter any other member, was a feeling of dread, or fear even if we were moving into one of those quarters in the government colonies that look antiquated with an occasional plant growing on the outer wall, and with huge gardens, usually in a dilapidated state thanks to the laziness of the previous occupant. So, as I turned off the lights and played the first episode of the Netflix horror series, I expected it to start with the family moving in to the haunted house.
But that was not to be, this series is not linear in terms of time. It is not a typical horror series either. There are, of course, the usual tropes. Great jump scare moments, haunting long shots and fitting sound engineering, but what stands out as you watch this show is the fact that horror is not about the any of these external effects but is an extremely personal experience. An experience that you go through in the dark crevices of your mind, an experience that you wont be able to put down in words. This may be the reason why watching horror with friends is so different than watching alone.
This aspect of not being able to explain is no better demonstrated than by the experience of the twins, the youngest of the Crains, who keep trying to alert the family of the evils in the house. But like all kids, they are never taken seriously. It is this element of fear that hits you hard as you watch them suffer. But the show is about the house, you snap back to realize, as the title clearly indicates. After a few episodes, we do indeed go through the excitement of the Crain family of five kids entering it. The parents buy old houses, renovate and sell at a high price.
Every house has a character, they say, but here the house has a purpose and it lives to further it’s purpose. The heinous purpose being to consume life. It feeds on people, luring them to the red room, which is the device by which the house operates. It is however not the soul or the heart but it’s the stomach, as explained by the enlightened and beatific ghost of Nell, one of the twins. The red room is different for each member of the family, depending on the members disposition and interests. Once you get comfortable in the red room, the house slowly suffocates the person with things that would affect them the most. It could be fear, shame, guilt, regrets, and such dark constructs till that person gives up and commits suicide to be eternally present in the house.
It lays claim on the mother to begin with, which it does that by convincing her into poisoning the twins who are the most vulnerable from her perspective because they are the youngest. The house convinces her that this is the only way to protect them from the unjust, scary world outside, to which she is eventually going to send them. The scene when we find her in a daze looking at the twins, and the way Nell and Luke talk about the future is in a way more scary than all the jump scares put together. It’s quite symbolic too, the house is actually no different than the world outside, one might also say that the world consumes us by luring us into our red rooms, that comfort zone we build around us, where we wither away over our lifetime. The family flees on the night when the mother dies, but the house and it’s effects never leave them.
There are two timelines running in parallel in this show, one with the family moving into the house and lasting up to the death of the mother. The other is with the kids grown up and how they are coping up with their lives, professions they have chosen, but mostly it’s about how they have been coping with their troubled past. The dad never told the kids what exactly happened on that fateful night. All the grown up kids seem to be suffering, a common thread of unrest and grief runs through all of them. And it is this grief that makes you think if the show is about horror or is a metaphoric take on life, existence and grief.
‘No one ever told me that grief felt so like fear.’ – C. S. Lewis, A Grief Observed
This quote is so apt in the context of the show, with each of the five siblings representing a stage of grief, or fear, however you want to see it. Even though fear is about things you don’t want to lose, whereas grief kicks in after loss, both have similar characteristics when you evaluate their effect on the individual. Both paralyze you, at least your senses, and the faculties of thinking clearly. Also, both get diluted when shared, but when contained within they keep getting heavy. They lead to a heaviness upon the soul that distorts one’s conception of space and time, no different than how gravity of heavy masses and intense energy distorts the space time fabric as postulated in science.
In Hill House, time curves to the extent of coiling around, like confetti as Nell says in her final, enlightened speech. It does so for her at the least, as the mystery of the beloved bent-neck lady is disclosed. Nell was the one who never doubted the existence of the lady, her embracing of the fear and the conviction creates that heaviness within her, surpassing that present in other siblings. It is a vicious cycle though, the ones who accept get to experience the anomalies and cannot help but try to show it to others. But the others, obviously, cannot see or feel the same way and find the person illogical, and this furthers the urge in the condemned one to try even more to convince. This process keeps reaffirming the fear within, or say, keeps magnifying the grief.
The ending of the show is on a positive note though, something I like in a story that’s allegorical. The beauty of this show lies in the ways it lets you interpret the scenes, lives, thinking and behavioral patterns of the characters. A review of this show, if you call my post a review, cannot avoid posting the ending quote by Steve, the eldest of the kids. He gets most of the philosophical lines, and rightly so because he has become a writer, of horror.
‘Fear is the relinquishment of logic, a parting with reasonable patterns and it gives you two choices, fight it or submit to it, there is no meeting it halfway. But so is love, it is also a relinquishment of logic’ – Steve
You cannot help but agree, you can fight love and deny yourself or you yield to it, and thereby let yourself dissolve in the feeling, it is a self annihilation no different than yielding to fear or grief and killing yourself. There is indeed no meeting any of these halfway, and that is the reason why love may be the only antidote to fear, pain, to grief and to everything that brings in a heaviness upon the soul, bending our space and time in ways that end up with us getting strangled by the confetti of life. This confetti is most likely the true representation of the universe around us, but we choose to ignore such thoughts and turn on the lights.