On its most basic level, Netflix’s “The Haunting of Hill House” is a horror series. But the tricks it plays on viewers minds have less to do with the literal ghosts peppered throughout the 10-episode show — which was renewed as an anthology by the streaming service — and more to do with the frights hidden in the minds of the Crain family that inhabited the titular haunted house.
And “Hill House” star Oliver Jackson-Cohen tells TheWrap that’s exactly what creator/director Mike Flanagan was going for when he developed the series.
“He wanted to make a drama that was about childhood trauma and how that, in itself, is horrific and horrifying,” Jackson-Cohen, who plays Luke Crain on the series, told TheWrap in the above interview. “I feel like he’s created a show that hasn’t really been done before, where he’s sort of exploring the after effects of what that does. And for us as actors, it very much felt like we were part of a family drama and that’s what we were shooting.”
“And a lot of the horror stuff is built in at edit,” he continued. “So it was kind of surprising watching the show for the first time, because you knew there was this element of horror that was going to be in the show but you didn’t necessarily feel it while you were shooting it because all of the family stuff that was going on was so intense.”
A modern reimagining of Shirley Jackson’s iconic novel, “Hill House” launched last October on Netflix. The 10-episode installment centered around the Crain family: father Hugh (older version played by Timothy Hutton, younger version portrayed by Henry Thomas), mother Olivia (Carla Gugino), and their children, Steve (Michiel Huisman), Shirley (Elizabeth Reaser), Theo (Kate Siegel), Luke (Jackson-Cohen) and Nellie (Victoria Pedretti).
The story follows the events that transpired during the one summer the Crains lived in the eponymous haunted home and their lives decades after leaving due to a tragic incident.
“I think Mike has done something really quite special with that,” Jackson-Cohen said. “I also think what’s so clever about it is he’s talking about these kind of really important themes of post-traumatic stress disorder, all of these things, and childhood abuse, and he’s making it palatable to an audience by kind of having the veil of horror around it. So if you kind of deconstructed that and you took away the horror element, I think it’s quite a hard-hitting drama in a way.”
Many fan theories surrounding “The Haunting of Hill House” have sprung up, including one that the five Crain siblings represent the Kübler-Ross model of the five stages of grief, meaning that going in birth order, Luke would be depression. Jackson-Cohen doesn’t necessarily agree with this idea.
“I don’t know if Luke is just depression; I would sort of say that he’s so much more than that,” he said. “He’s struggle. I wouldn’t say that Luke is depressed; I would just say that he’s struggling to navigate the past and the trauma that he went through. So I don’t know if that necessarily qualifies as depression. But I remember someone telling me about that when the show came out and I think it’s a very kind of clever way… if only it was true.”
You can read more from our interview with Jackson-Cohen here, in which he talks about his possible involvement with Season 2, “The Haunting of Bly Manor.”