Netflix’s The Haunting of Hill House
Season 1, Episode 5: “The Bent-Neck Lady”
Directed by Mike Flanagan
Written by Meredith Averill
* For a recap & review of the previous episode, “The Twin Thing” – click here
* For a recap & review of the next episode, “Two Storms” – click here
The first night at Hill House, little Nell (Violet McGraw) felt something near her bed— it was the “Bent–Neck Lady.” The figure screamed at the girl, causing Nell to scream back, waking her brother Luke (Julian Hilliard). Olivia (Carla Gugino) and Hugh (Henry Thomas) went to get their daughter, taking her to bed with them. They tell her it wasn’t real.
The following night, Nell wouldn’t sleep in her room. She stayed on the couch. Nell finally went to sleep, along with her mother on the floor. Olivia eventually woke and left her daughter. That’s when Nell woke and saw the shadowy woman floating above her. Like a visit from the Old Hag, commonly known as “sleep paralysis,” keeping the girl immobile, unable to speak.
A grown up Nell (Victoria Pedretti) told a sleep technologist – her eventual husband, Arthur (Jordane Christie) – about her problems. He explained the “deeper stages” of sleep and why she might have visions like “shadow people” and other hallucinations. It has to do with a “disrupted boundary” between waking life and dreams.
We see their relationship play out. Extra special to watch such beautiful moments given Nell’s unfortunate circumstances in current day scenes. The whole family was together, from Steven (Michiel Huisman) to her dad Hugh (Timothy Hutton), and Shirley (Elizabeth Reaser), who was just figuring out Theo (Kate Siegel) is a lesbian.
But the Bent-Neck Lady wouldn’t go away, no matter how far Nell got from Hill House. She continued experiencing those personal hauntings. And while Arthur was there to help her, he couldn’t understand it wasn’t just sleep paralysis, but a ghost attached to Nell. One night, Nell was paralysed. Arthur got up, only to have his neck twist strangely. In the room, the Bent-Neck Lady appeared to Nell, who crawled from bed to her husband and found him dead on the floor. The official cause of death was “aneurysm.” She knew the truth: Hill House killed him.
Little Nell found a tea set and took it to Mrs. Dudley (Annabeth Gish). The caretaker told her the “cup of stars” in the set belonged to Jacqueline Hill, whose mother Hazel Hill owned the house. Later, Olivia scolded Nell for writing on the wall, though the girl denied it. Mom’s migraines didn’t make the psychological situation in that house any easier. Theo (Mckenna Grace) knew the truth, touching the wall to understand. When she peels back more wallpaper there’s a message: COME HOME NELL. Father Gore’s prediction: the Bent-Neck Lady is actually Nell’s own ghost, having hung herself, and she’s been called, from a young age, towards a suicidal fate.
Grown Nell sat waiting for Luke (Oliver Jackson-Cohen) in her car on a rainy night. She picked him up to take him to a rehab facility. Not before he asked her to score drugs for him, so he could “get well” before rehab. She clearly didn’t want to, yet that “twin thing” made their connection deeper than the other siblings, and he was able to convince her. As her brother shot up, she saw the Bent-Neck Lady there in the road, waiting for her like always.
“It’s just a building”
Nell and Theo were having a visit together when the younger sister asked big sister to do her touch thing. She asked Theo to touch a pillow on the bed— nothing. Then she wanted her to touch the floor in a certain spot – where her husband died – and Theo refused, after which Nell forced her. It was clear Nell was deteriorating, and her sister was worried. Everything fell apart when the sisters argued over their family issues. The younger of the two got awfully personal, so big sister figured it was time to leave.
Steven was busy promoting his book The Haunting of Alcatraz. All anybody wanted was Hill House. He was interrupted by Nell calling him out on his lack of belief and for how he “sell[s] tickets for the privilege” of hearing him talk about the supernatural when he, and most the other siblings, never believed her experiences. Alone together, he only reinforced everything she said like a self-righteous asshole.
Nell headed back to Massachusetts after talking with her psychiatrist (Russ Tamblyn, who played Luke Sanderson in 1963’s The Haunting based on the same book as this series). Being at a motel there reminded her of the night her father took them all away from Hill House, abandoning Olivia back there. Hugh left the kids there to go back. Luke said they were in “the Red Room having a tea party with Abigail and mommy.” Nell chimed in to say it wasn’t their mother.
Grown Nell waited at the motel room, using the count-family-members technique to relax. That night she falls asleep, waking to paralysis and seeing Luke above her on the ceiling, overdosed with a needle in his arm. Someone was trying to get in, struggling at the door, too.
At the motel after the last night in Hill House, Hugh came back, covered in red paint looking like blood, his eyes wild and crazy. Nell was the only one awake. He explained things to her a little before the cops arrived. He left her there, with his pocket watch, and promised he’d be back soon.
After her vision of Luke, Nell was worried for her brother but couldn’t get any of her siblings on the phone. And everywhere she went, the Bent-Neck Lady followed. When Steve left a message to let her know Luke was fine in rehab it began to reveal Hill House was never going to let her go, infiltrating her twin hypersense to play tricks on her mind.
Nell returned to Hill House— now marked with graffiti to read HELL HOUSE on the gate’s sign. We see the call between her and her father, when she asked him about the Bent-Neck Lady, which he remembered. She saw light from the mansion, lying to her father about where she was, and the place called her inside. When she went in, she found her siblings as children again, talking to her like she was gone out somewhere all day. Mom was making the sign behind the wallpaper spell WELCOME HOME NELL. “We always believed you,” she said. She went upstairs and put on a dress, coming down to find her grown family there accepting her experiences in the house, even a clean, sober Luke, and Arthur, alive again.
We’re seeing the sad dance Nell was doing by herself around the decaying mansion was her hallucination, seeing herself dancing with Arthur reunited. Nell is left alone when Arthur fades, then she, her mother, ghostly Abigail, and Luke head up towards the Red Room for tea. Eerie timelines converging. Sadder still, this ends with Nell’s suicide – or, Olivia’s ghost wrapping a noose around her neck, symbolically with the locket, and pushing her over the stairs – as she takes her place as the Bent-Neck Lady of Hill House.
WHAT A HORRIFIC ENDING! Amazing.
This is Father Gore’s personal favourite episode so far in the series. Such devastating stuff, yet it’s a perfect piece to the whole puzzle. The acting from everyone is outstanding. That end was killer.
“Two Storms” is next.