The ending of Mike Flanagan's series adaptation of Shirley Jackson's The Haunting of Hill House on Netflix is a ghost-laden doozy. From the very beginning, the Crain family is at odds with their respective inner demons, the literal and figurative skeletons in their closets, and their damaged memories. But it's the house they all grew up in - the infamous Hill House - that has rendered the worst damage.
In The Haunting on Hill House, husband and wife Hugh and Olivia Crain (played by Henry Thomas and Carla Cugino, respectively) temporarily move with their five children to Hill House for the summer. Their plan is to restore the massive home to its former glory, flip it, and finally have a shot at building their forever home from scratch. Little do they realize, however, that Hill House isn't just haunted, but infested with evil. Not only are there ghosts lurking in nearly every corner of the house, but Hill House is itself a living thing; and, like all living things, it needs to feed. Unfortunately for the Crain family, despite their hopeful ambitions, Hill House feeds on the people living inside of it.
The series teeters back and forth in time, shedding light on the family's horrific experience living inside Hill House, while also visiting them as adults, reeling off the damage the house has done to them over the years. And, already torn apart from tragedy, the family is faced with even more horrors as Hill House does its best to lure them back and finish what it started years earlier.
- This Page: The Red Room and Nell's Death
- Page 2: The Abigail Twist, and A Happy Ending
The Red Room Twist Explained
The scattered timeline in The Haunting of Hill House can be disorienting, but the story itself is fairly simple. At its core, it's about a monster. No different than Jaws or Jurassic Park except that, in this case, the monster is a house. And, despite the fact that it's completely immobile, Hill House is stronger than it looks and more powerful than it seems, playing to its manipulative strengths as a kind of Venus flytrap where the fly doesn't realize it's already being eaten.
The Crain family is trapped in Hill House the moment they step through its doors. They see the occasional ghost and hear the occasional whisper in the shadows, but little do they know that Hill House has had them hooked from the beginning. And, by the end of the series, the surviving members of the Crain family finally discover the truth behind (or, in this case, within) the house. Olivia Crain touches on the fact that all houses are like bodies ("the walls are bones, pipes are veins," etc.), and this leads to the assumption that the mysterious Red Room within Hill House must be the heart. Only, this isn't the case. As the first season comes to a close, the Crain family discovers that the Red Room is actually the stomach of Hill House, and ever since the family had been living there, it had been digesting them one by one.
Here's the big twist: the family discovers that Hill House had tricked them into entering the Red Room by changing on the inside, giving it a unique appearance and location to each member of the family (for Luke, it was a treehouse; for Olivia, it was a reading room, etc.). The house tricks people into staying inside of it and, though most of the family managed to just barely avoid being devoured completely, Olivia, Nell (played by Victoria Pedretti), and Hugh (played by Timothy Hutton in the modern setting) weren't so lucky.
Related: 14 Best Horror TV Shows Of All Time
What Happened to Nell?
Speaking of Nell, her storyline is the catalyst of the action in The Haunting of Hill House. From the very beginning, she's being pulled back to Hill House more forcefully than any of her siblings, haunted by visions of the ghost she used to see when she was a child (a woman she dubbed "the bent-neck lady"). She's tempted back to Hill House out of sheer curiosity to better understand the house's intentions, but she's ultimately drawn in when the house makes her believe that her late-husband Arthur (played by Jordane Christie) is still alive. It offers her the happy ending and reprieve she's been desperate for her entire life.
It's not really a happy ending, though - just a trap. The house ultimately kills Nell, trapping her soul inside of it forever, and in doing so she's lost in Hill House's supernatural reality. Once she's tricked into placing a noose around her own neck, and is then pushed to her death, it's revealed that Nell is the bent-neck lady, meaning she's been haunting herself all this time in the show's own Doctor Who-esque timey-wimey way.
What Hill House didn't prepare for was the fact that the Crain family has their own supernatural abilities. Theodora (played by Kate Siegel) is a psychic empath, Luke and Nell share a psychic twin link with each other, and Olivia had her own share of unusual abilities ever since she was a child. And while this might have made some of them especially sensitive to Hill House's pull, it also helped level the competition once Hill House consumed them. They weren't just lifeless morsels in the belly of a monster - they had some legitimate fighting power. This resulted in Nell moving through time and space, within and outside of the house, in order to warn herself and the other members of her family of Hill House's overall agenda.