The characters in The Haunting of Hill House are haunted not only by the ghosts that inhabited their childhood home, but also by the traumas they’ve accumulated over the course of their lives. In Mike Flanagan’s 10-episode adaptation of Shirley Jackson’s celebrated 1959 horror novel, the five Crain siblings lived for a short time in the sprawling, crumbling estate known as Hill House, but their experience there has remained with them for decades.
Only loosely based on Jackson’s novel, which primarily followed paranormal investigators looking into the secrets of the allegedly haunted house, the Netflix series splits its time between the past and the present, moving seamlessly between the two. In the past, Hugh Crain (Henry Thomas) and his wife Olivia (Carla Gugino) have brought five children to Hill House, which they intend to renovate and sell at a hefty profit, so they may then build their "forever home." The house, however, appears to have other plans, as its wreaks havoc on the sensitive family members, some of whom possess extrasensory abilities.
Early on, The Haunting of Hill House depicts the Crain family’s late-night flight from Hill House, although not everyone escapes. As adults, the Crain children are still scarred from their childhood experience, and their relationships with each other remain troubled. They’re also mostly estranged from their father Hugh (played as an older man by Timothy Hutton), who lost custody of the children following the incidents at Hill House, and went on to spin stories of the supposed haunting to anyone who would listen.
Eldest sibling Steven (Michiel Huisman) has also capitalized on the family’s story, writing a bestselling book about the notorious Hill House haunting, and using that as a jumping-off point for an entire series about famous haunted places. Shirley (Elizabeth Reaser), the next-eldest, has channeled her grief into work as a funeral director, helping other families process the pain of loss. The sensitive Theodora (Kate Siegel), who can glean psychic impressions from people and objects with a touch of her hands, has become a therapist, also helping other families deal with issues that her own has yet to address.
The youngest Crains, twins Luke (Oliver Jackson-Cohen) and Nell (Victoria Pedretti), are the most troubled; Luke has turned to heroin to blot out the apparitions that he still sees, and has been in and out of rehab, while Nell suffers from undefined mental illnesses, which she treats through a variety of conventional and unconventional means. Everyone in the family seems deeply unhappy, and that’s before a devastating tragedy brings them all back together, for a new round of fighting and yelling, and haunting.