How ‘The Haunting of Hill House’ Series Helps Some Cope with Family Trauma

Jason Boog
Nov 8, 2018 · 3 min read
“Most times a ghost is a wish.”

2018 has been a miserable year for survivors.

Victims of assault have been exposed for months, reliving their traumatic stories over again for news reports and Congressional hearings. As these stories resurface, survivors cope with a barrage of difficult material in their digital lives.

Maybe that’s why Netflix’s new adaptation of The Haunting of Hill House kept us hypnotized. I’ll try to explain without spoiling the plot of this spooky story.

Much of the show’s weight falls on children who endure a traumatic summer in a haunted house. “They never believe me,” one of those children cries when his family doesn’t acknowledge the trauma he has already suffered.

Survivors said the same thing this year, facing skepticism and mockery for telling their stories. That child’s cry has never felt more important than it does right now.


Not everybody liked The Haunting of Hill House.

At the New Yorker, Emily Nussbaum called the show “existentially soul-dead.” She compared the show’s characters to Shirley Jackson’s original novel, and found them lacking. She writes:

In Jackson’s version, two intruders arrive halfway through the study, spiritualists who insist that anyone who fears ghosts is a bigot: spirits are just lonely, waiting for someone to talk to. “How would you feel if people refused to believe in you,” the newcomers chide the terrorized participants, who keep warning them not to go outside at night. This damp sentimentality, so brutally satirized by Jackson, is the guiding principle of [the] series.

“Damp sentimentality” doesn’t capture the show’s powerful effect for some survivors of family trauma. Some viewers see forced resolution in the show’s emotionally charged final episodes, but others found closure.

“Most times a ghost is a wish,” explains one character in the story. For decades, every character in the TV series longs for the return of a lost loved one, second chances, and resolution.

On Reddit, scores of readers shared intensely personal stories of family trauma, and how the show helped them rethink these old wounds.

“For me, it was almost like immersion therapy,” wrote one reader dealing with nightmares and trauma from a difficult childhood. “Going through a pretty bad bout of depression lately and this ending just helped pull me out and inspire me.”

Another reader shared stories of her traumatic experiences with her own mother. “I never expected a horror series to have had this much impact on me,” she wrote. “This series articulated what I currently feel as a mom and how I should not allow my fear to overrun the joys of life. It has also helped to articulate my mom’s fear and probable state of mind with regard to me, her child.”

Finally, a mother explained how the show helped her children talk about an unimaginable tragedy within their family. She wrote:

“this was the closest any fiction had ever come to the horror and the breaking and the general haunting of loss. It was gut wrenching and cathartic. My youngest daughter who also just finished the series felt like it spoke to her…like it was made for her … I think this show and our talk helped us to better understand each other’s experiences and the mental impact it had on our family.”

Those viewers found a bit of peace during a brutal year for survivors. I wish these moving stories could play a larger role in the conversation about The Haunting of Hill House and horror fandom.

Maybe “damp sentimentality” seems like a flaw when it surfaces inside one of our gloomiest genres, but the creators of the Netflix series answered another kind of wish — the desire for a measure of resolution during this most difficult year.

Jason Boog

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Journalist, author & West Coast correspondent for Publishers Weekly.