There are several scenes in episode two of Netflix’s new series The Haunting of Hill House that made me distinctly think, “Yup, I’m watching This Is Us with ghosts.” The first is a flashback when Shirley, the second oldest of the Crain children, is mourning the loss of her pet kitten and becomes horrified when a bug crawls out of its mouth. That’s scarring enough for any preteen, but then cut to a few days later when all of her other pet kittens die. Shirley freaks out—as any of us would—and her parents, Hugh and Olivia, have an argument. Olivia berates Hugh for giving Shirley the cats because she’ll now have a warped perception of death for life. Fast-forward some 20 years later, and what do you know? Shirley owns a mortuary with her husband.
To be clear, I’m not suggesting there’s something wrong with morticians, but this sequence of events is just so on the nose. Singular Childhood Incident Directly Impacts Adult in the Most Obvious Way: That’s straight out of the This Is Us playbook—just with, ya know, maybe-possessed cats.
For those who don’t know about The Haunting of Hill House, let me back up. It’s a 10-episode horror series from Netflix based on the popular 1959 novel by Shirley Jackson. The show takes a lot of creative liberties, though. It’s set in present-day, and now based on the Crain family, which is comprised of mom Olivia, dad Hugh, and kids Steve, Shirley, Theodora, Luke, and Nell. Olivia and Hugh are house flippers who’ve decided to take on a mammoth, creaky mansion as their next project. The only problem, however, is that it’s haunted as fuck—like so, so haunted. There are ghosts all over this joint and even a red door in the upstairs they can’t open. A specter named the Bent-Neck Lady lurks around the kids’ rooms like Kim Kardashian in this GIF:
All the creepiness comes to a head one night when Hugh rushes the children out of the house and leaves Olivia behind. And then Olivia dies under mysterious circumstances. Twenty-plus years later, we see these kids as estranged adults who are still extremely traumatized—from the house, their mother’s death, and other reasons.
Saying anything more will give away key spoilers, so you’ll just have to watch if you’re now intrigued. From that synopsis alone, though, you can see the This Is Us parallels clearer than Haley Joel Osment saw dead people in The Sixth Sense. Melodramatic siblings! Flashbacks! A central mystery! The list goes on and on, so let me break down the key ways The Haunting of Hill House could easily be called This Is Us But Spooky:
1. The dynamic between the five siblings. The child Crain siblings are fairly happy go-lucky in their mansion despite all the ghosts, but as adults, not so much. Shirley and Theodora are tight, but Shirley is on the outs with Steve. Steve is on the outs with Luke. Nell just wants everyone to get along. You get the idea! There’s a lot of latent sibling tension that rings very close to the time Kevin called out Randall for being the favorite on This Is Us. The amount of drama between the Crains makes the problems on This Is Us seem like cake. At least Kate doesn’t have to worry about spirits from the beyond.
2. All those flashbacks. The Haunting of Hill House thrives on the art of flashback, much like This Is Us does. We’ll start with a scene from the past, and then see how those events have affected the family in present times. It’s eerily similar to the narratives on This Is Us. Just swap Mandy Moore’s grandma wig for paranormal activity. (The wig is still scarier.)
3. What happened to Olivia? The Crain matriarch passes away mysteriously after the rest of the family leaves the house. The official report is that she died by suicide, but Hugh is convinced Hill House played a role in her death. After the first episode, you watch the series knowing Olivia is dead, but flashbacks help tell her story—much like Jack’s on This Is Us—and her demise is a central question on the show. (Stay tuned to see if a Crock Pot is involved.)
4. Thirst trap family members. On This Is Us, Justin Hartley is always walking around with his shirt off, and Randall exercises 5,000 times a day. Meanwhile, Michiel Huisman (who plays adult Steve on Hill House) has smolder for days that’s only enhanced by his hipster glasses. An atmospheric thirst trap!
5. The crying. Nell spends the entire first episode crying. Shirley spends a large chunk of the second episode crying, as does Luke. Hot Steve cries, too. I’m not judging them, of course—they’re dealing with literal ghosts—but the sheer amount of tears shed in just two episodes absolutely puts Hill House in This Is Us territory. Have tissues on hand when you watch—to cover your eyes when things get terrifying.
The Haunting of Hill House is now streaming on Netflix.