Netflix’s The Haunting of Hill House
Season 1, Episode 8: “Witness Marks”
Directed by Mike Flanagan
Written by Jeff Howard & Rebecca Klingel
* For a recap & review of the previous episode, “Eulogy” – click here
* For a recap & review of the next episode, “Screaming Meemies” – click here
Steven (Michiel Huisman) and Leigh (Samantha Sloyan) were once looking at options to get pregnant, either “IUI” or “IVF.” She was clearly more interested, whereas he was distracted by those personal ghosts, seeing his mother Olivia (Carla Gugino) on the periphery of his vision. Eventually, later on, we’re privy to the knowledge Steven had a vasectomy after college because he never wanted children, worried he’d pass on the Crain family’s hereditary mental illness.
At the funeral home, Shirley (Elizabeth Reaser) was trying to track down her credit card, stolen by Luke (Oliver Jackson-Cohen). The siblings are worried what’ll happen. Hugh (Timothy Hutton) and Theo (Kate Siegel) are both reeling from seeing dead Olivia crawling along the floor. The psychologist in Theo worries about how “suicides can cluster in families.” Steven wonders if his brother went to “Methadone Mile,” where people buy and sell drugs, and decides to go looking joined by his father. This gives the two time to bond, despite the son not being into it. Hugh’s trying anything he can to hold onto the relationship he has with his kids. Steven listens to his father talk about his mother and their marriage, describing their relationship in an analogy Olivia once used, as “the kite and the line.”
In the basement of Hill House, Hugh (Henry Thomas) was working and young Steven (Paxton Singleton) was eager to help. So his dad asked him to help watch his brother and sisters while mom went to Aunt Janet’s to stay a while. This is where Steven’s concern for his siblings really emerged, as he took on an active role in their lives, being the oldest of the Crain children. Later that day, he walked in on his mother talking to somebody, yet nobody was there.
It’s Halloween! Kevin (Anthony Ruivivar) takes the kids out trick or treating. Shirley stays home and starts cleaning up the crushed model home, finding a panel with black mould on the inside. Eerie. Then her doorbell’s ringing. She tries ignoring it, not wanting and trick or treaters, but there’s nobody out there when she answers.
In the car, Steven mentions seeing the police report on his mother’s death. Olivia had her head cracked open, her limbs were twisted and broken, among other injuries. The son is eternally angry because his father left his mother to kill herself. Yet we know there’s more to it.
Young Steven found an old vanity he wanted to paint and restore for his mother. He went to Mrs. Dudley (Annabeth Gish) to try and find some point. In the drawer was a picture of Poppy Hill— William’s clinically insane wife. Poppy met William at a mental institution. The kid went to work painting, only to see there was black mould around the wood underneath. He painted over it, which we can view as symbolic of all the ways Olivia’s deteriorating mental health was inadvertently, and purposely, ignored by those around her. Steven eventually gave Olivia the fixed up vanity. After enjoying it a moment she gets angry out of nowhere, smashing the glass and scaring her son.
While Shirley is having a rough Halloween, getting knocks on the door with nobody on the other side, she gets a visit from Theo trying to apologise. Theo said nothing happened between her and Kevin. The sisters argue. Shirley doesn’t want to hear it, calling her sister a “fucking slut” while Theo insists her sister pushes everyone in her life away. In the middle of it the knocks on the door continue, again with no source— just like that night decades ago in Hill House. More knocks come on the windows, the walls, everywhere, and the sisters feel like children again. At the same time, Shirley gets a notice about her credit card being used, giving Steven a call. They think Luke’s going back to Hill House. While Steven thinks his brother’s going back there to kill himself, his father knows that’s not the case. They stop at a gas station and they find out Luke purchased five cans of gas. He’s trying to burn the place down. Now Hugh’s scared the place will try and “defend itself.”
“My genes are rotten”
Hugh comes clean to Steven, telling him the family’s an “unfinished meal” to Hill House, and, if given the chance, it will devour them. He kept the kids in the dark all these years because he thought it was his best option for protecting them. He says Steven is in the most danger, because of his book. He mentions the story about the vanity. He forces his son to think of the past, a passage from The Haunting of Hill House about a man repairing a clock in the house. Hugh relates this to “witness marks“— evidence of repairs having been done, telling “the story of the piece,” similar to scars. Dad says the clock wasn’t touched after they had it inspected before moving in, meaning the man repairing it in Steven’s memory was a ghost. On top of that, Steven doesn’t remember other things, like the fact they never had a tree house, despite him having memories of being in it with Luke.
In another car, Theo and Shirley head for the house, too. They’re arguing and get interrupted by the dead face of their sister Nell (Victoria Pedretti) screaming between them from the backseat, nearly driving them off the road. Theo tells Shirley she touched Nell’s body to try and know what happened to her. She “felt nothing” at all, and it’s like the feeling consumed her ever since. Her moment with Kevin was merely a way to try feeling something again, replacing the nothing with shame.
At Hill House, Luke pours the gas everywhere throughout the foyer, soaking as much as he can. He lights a Zippo, tossing it to the floor— and nothing. On the stairs he sees his mother reaching out for his hand, calling him silently. Then, from behind, a ghostly figure grabs him by the face.
Jesus, this episode had a couple awesome creeps! Flanagan is capable of both the subtle, built up scares, as well as the terrifying jumps. He always gives a combination in his movies, so it’s no surprise he does the same so well here.
“Screaming Meemies” is next. The title is a silly way to refer to anxiety or panic attacks. You can guarantee it won’t be so funny in the context of this series.