Netflix’s The Haunting of Hill House
Season 1, Episode 10: “Silence Lay Steadily”
Directed & Written
by Mike Flanagan
* For a recap & review of the penultimate episode, “Screaming Meemies” – click here
Young Shirley (Lulu Wilson) and Nell (Violet McGraw) had the supposed “master key” for Hill House from Mr. Dudley (Robert Longstreet), trying to get inside the Red Room. It didn’t work. But we see that Theo (Mckenna Grace) was watching Paula Abdul and dancing, seeing the doorknob jiggle. Was she inside the Red Room? She tried speaking to her sister, though they couldn’t hear her. She looked under the door and couldn’t see anything, before her sisters ran off. Theo blamed the disturbance on Luke (Julian Hilliard), going back to Paula.
What’s going on? Clearly Theo’s got a deeper connection to the events in the house than even she realised, or realises today. Somehow, in the season finale, Flanagan builds up a new mystery around the Red Room.
Steven (Michiel Huisman) is trying to write slowly, back when he and Leigh (Samantha Sloyan) were still together and she was pregnant. He was trying to complete a follow-up to his hit, The Haunting of Hill House. Here, we get actual lines from Shirley Jackson’s Gothic horror novel of the same name.
In current day, Steven and his father Hugh (Timothy Hutton) arrive at Hill House for the first time in many years. Inside, the place is overgrown with weeds and cobwebs, like it’s part of the landscape, the earth. And Steven’s already seeing ghosts, like the tall man with the bowler hat, Mr. William Hill (Fedor Steer), lurking in a doorway. Both he and dad are seeing ghosts. They find little Abigail (Olive Elise Abercrombie). Finally, the truth’s baring itself to Steven in full force as a grown man, not as a young, impressionable child.
“It might also be said that some houses are born bad”
Father and son go right up to the Red Room. Inside the room, Steve sees Luke (Oliver Jackson-Cohen) lying on the floor, hurt. He goes for his brother, but the door closes behind him, keeping his father out. Simultaneously, we jump back to the earlier scene with Steven and Leigh, as he recounts the plot of his book— an exact mirror of the current events he and Hugh are experiencing. Because Steven’s conjuring a future where Leigh’s pregnant, where he got out of Hill House and went on to try writing a sequel for his best book. The nightmare Leigh calls him an “eater” and a “plastic parasite,” berating him for how he lives life through the words he writes about the stories of other peoples lives instead of experiencing it firsthand, and calling herself a character in one of his stories. She shows off a belly growing with hideous darkness: “She must be an eater like her dad.” Leigh then grows mouldy and black.
Soon, Steven wakes back at Hill House in the Red Room. His sisters are there, too. Luke has a needle in his arm. We skip back to when he was trying to burn the place down. He saw his mother Olivia (Carla Gugino) on the stairs, before one of the ghosts nabbed him. Back further, to that night he tried saving Joey (Anna Enger). She came back for him and they went to a fancy hotel room where they could get clean. Is this another of the house’s nightmares? You bet. Joey wants to shoot up. The house uses the weakness of its inhabitants, the darkest and toughest moments of their lives, to subvert their hopes and aspirations in order to draw them back in— to consume them once and for all. As Luke’s about to overdose he sees Joey with those “runny egg eyes” like the veteran addict talked about in Narcotics Anonymous. A genuinely terrifying image.
While Luke’s overdosing on rat poison, and Steve tries rushing in, Hugh gets caught in the house’s dark mould. This is when Theo (Kate Siegel) and Shirley (Elizabeth Reaser) arrive. They’re each seeing ghosts. Shirley’s taken back to a hotel bar, where she refused a drink from a man and sent back a platter of “boneless Caribbean jerk wings” as a laugh. She’s actually caught in one of those nightmares, remembering the time when she cheated on her husband. The guilt is worse considering the situation with her husband Kevin (Anthony Ruivivar) and Theo. She then sees herself at her own funeral, her corpse in the casket. She watches herself tear her eyes out.
“The instant someone dies, they learn everything— every secret thing.”
Shirley wakes to find Steven trying to revive their brother. They’re all actually inside the Red Room together. Theo’s caught in her own nightmare, the night she rushed to her booty call Trish (Levy Tran). Trish talks about “fear and guilt” as “sisters,” telling a story eerily similar to the one of William Hill barricading himself behind that wall in the basement. She says William was only dreaming, and when he woke up “he was tall.” Fucking creepy. Not to mention Theo gets caught in a tangle of ghostly hands, before her sister Nell pulls her back to waking life.
The siblings continue trying to revive Luke, but he’s dead.
Luke wakes up in the Red Room to find little Nell, Abigail, and his mother waiting at the tea party. The room’s not like it was, looking more like a Heaven-like place than the dingy, mouldy one where we saw Olivia the last night in Hill House. She talks to her son about when she gained a love for houses as a girl. She and the kids are wearing “big boy hats” and “cups of stars.” But Nell tells him: “Go.” Mom’s calling him over to death, and his little sister’s trying to warn him.
Suddenly, Luke comes back to life. He says Nell saved him, pointing to their ghostly sister standing next to them. She tells them all this was their only fate, they had no choice but arrive in this place. She seems to come back to life before their eyes, explaining “our moments fall around us like rain,” that time is less like a long line, rather “like confetti” scattered, non-linear. They’ve all been trapped in the Red Room before. We see how they all occupied the Red Room in various ways: the tree house, Theo’s dance studio, Steven’s game room, Nell’s toy room, Olivia’s reading room, a family room for Shirley. The room “put on different faces” so it could keep swallowing them whole. The Red Room now gives the family closure, as they’re allowed the opportunity to say goodbye to Nell once more. In a way, the hauntings were unfinished business in their lives, unresolved and festering like the black mould in that room.
Hugh comes to outside the room. The ghost of Poppy Hill (Catherine Parker) appears and recounts more of Shirley Jackson’s words from Chapter 8 in The Haunting of Hill House: “The first was young Miss Grattan, she tried not to let him in / He stabbed her with a corn knife, that‘s how his crimes begin.” Note: this is from “The Grattan Murders”— a creepy ballad, one the author included in her novel because she apparently sang it to her own children according to the book Shirley Jackson: A Rather Haunted Life by Ruth Franklin. Poppy’s confronted by Olivia telling her to leave. Husband and wife talk about the house’s evil. He says he spent his life trying to hold back the monsters of Hill House from his family, only to see it happen anyway. But he says it’s part of being a parent, having to watch whatever happens, for better or worse, to the lives of your children. Olivia would rather be in that house, free of that pain, than to face the reality their “forever house” is a lie.
“Dad, what did I see?”
Hugh wants to fix his family. He convinces his wife to open the Red Room, allowing him to get his children out and try getting Luke to the hospital. While the sisters take Luke, Hugh and Steven stay behind, and they both witness the last night at Hill House, when young Hugh (Henry Thomas) returned by himself finding his wife dead at the foot of the spiral staircase. Mr. Dudley (Robert Longstreet) and Mrs. Dudley (Annabeth Gish) were there. The caretakers were there at night, despite their rule. Turns out Abigail was actually real. She was the Dudley’s daughter, sheltered from the world at their guest house, who Olivia poisoned in the Red Room. Hugh wanted to burn the place to the ground, but the Dudleys didn’t want to lose their daughter’s ghost. They said they wouldn’t tell anybody, keeping all the secrets. This is why Hugh kept the house, to “let it starve,” and to also leave those “precious things” that have accumulated over the years. Ironically, the decision Hugh made to protect his family from those harsh realities of what happened in Hill House were both to help his own family and likewise to help the Dudley family.
After Steven sees the truth, he has to say goodbye to his father. Hugh’s decided to stay at Hill House, leaving it to his son, entering the Red Room with his wife and daughter as the younger version of himself, a happier one. As Steven leaves he senses all the house’s ghosts behind him.
At the hospital, Luke recovers. Everyone is moving on, or trying to. We’re back to that scene with Steven and Leigh, but for real now, without the pregnancy. He comes clean about how he “lived with ghosts” of all kinds – secrets, regrets, mistakes – his whole life. At her home, Shirley does the same thing with Kevin. Theo and Trish are getting closer, as the former’s leaving those gloves behind. The Crain children are realising they have to bring down the walls they built up, or else they’ll die behind them like William Hill. At Hill House, an older Mr. Dudley brings his dying wife Clara to the foyer, hoping he can preserve her for eternity. He sees her afterwards, holding their baby in her arms alongside their daughter Abigail.
Through it all, the Crains survive, as does Hill House.
“And those who walk there, walk together.”
What a finale. Jesus. The drama weaved in the supernatural here has been so engaging, and it’s brought tears to my eyes on more than one occasion. The Red Room, ultimately, becomes a place where memories are preserved, away from the pain of real life’s tragedies, and through Hugh and his kids it’s also been able to bring closure, too.
One of the great horror shows of all time. One of the great dramas of all time. Father Gore might never get over it, in the best, lingering way possible. Who says horrors can’t have a happy ending sometimes? Not against the rules, especially when it’s done so damn well.