Netflix’s viewership numbers are as discernible as a shadow-cloaked spirit poking its obsidian eyes over your left shoulder — you know they exist, but you’ll never come face to face with them. (Uh, don’t turn around.)
Still, we can say with some authority that the new horror series The Haunting of Hill House, created by Hush, Oculus and Gerald’s Game writer-director Mike Flanagan, was one of the streaming service’s bigger hits in recent memory. Based on the show’s social chatter dominance after its Oct. 12 release, the data-science company Parrot Analytics estimates that the “total audience demand” for The Haunting of Hill House, “which reflects the desire, engagement and viewership, weighted by importance,” rivaled the two biggest series, American Horror Story and The Walking Dead, both legacy properties in their eighth and ninth seasons, respectively. We may never know the full story on Hill House, but if Netflix’s own internal competition is any comparison, there’ll be high demand for a season two in the immediate future.
But how will it happen? On the promotion trail, Flanagan reflected on how he could re-re-approach (or perhaps reimagine yet again) Shirley Jackson’s source material, while grappling with his season one ending.
If you haven’t watched the series yet, turn back now.
[Ed. note: the rest of this post contains spoilers for The Haunting of Hill House.]
The Haunting of Hill House’s 10-episode first season is rife with trauma. Though ghosts from the mansion still appear before the living members of the Crain family in dimly lit hallways, it’s memories of their terror-filled childhood, and the destructive mechanisms they’ve used to cope, that haunt the clan. As whispers from beyond draw the grown kids back to Hill House, Flanagan threads the needle of tragedy to showcase the crushing power of mental illness and some classically spooky spirits.
Based on the gruesome turns throughout, one could imagine The Haunting of Hill House ending with a Twilight Zone-like twist. Instead, the Crain family finds closure, and even redemption. Hugh (Henry Thomas and Timothy Hutton), the patriarch, crosses over to be with Olivia (Carla Gugino). The other kids finally learn what happened to their mother on that fateful night, and take ownership of the home and its otherworldly denizens. Confronting their nightmares is the catharsis they need to be a family again.
The ending doesn’t leave much room for a follow-up. Flanagan agrees.
“As far as I’ve ever been concerned with this, the story of the Crain family is told,” the creator told Entertainment Weekly. “It’s done [...] I felt like the Crains have been through enough, and we left them exactly as we all wanted to remember them, those of us who worked on it. We toyed with a cliffhanger ending, and we toyed with other ideas, but ultimately, in the writers’ room and with the cast and everything else, we really felt like the story demanded a certain kind of closure from us and we were happy to close the book on that family.”
That twist ending you may have expected was certainly on Flanagan’s mind for a moment. “We toyed with the idea for a little while that over that monologue, over the image of the family together, we would put the Red Room window in the background,” he told The Hollywood Reporter. “Maybe they never really got out of that room.”
In the THR interview, Flanagan goes on to explain that, while Netflix, Paramount and Amblin Entertainment have yet to formally commit to a season two, he has considered how to push the premise forward.
“We actually fleshed out a thorough history for Hill House,” he said. “We intended to shoot it; it was going to open each episode with a chapter from Steven’s book. Ultimately, we went away from that because it felt like that was taking away from the mystery and enigma of it.”
In one of the final scenes of season one, Steven (Michiel Huisman) walks through the Hill House foyer, where the entire “family” of ghosts sees him off. Poppy’s there. The Man with the Hat is there. Other familiar, sunken-eyed ghouls are there. And any one of them could open the (red) door for a prequel — or a sequel? Where the Crain family ends, the astral plane of Hill House begins.
Or perhaps there are parallel stories to be told in the same universe. Just as Steve piggybacked off his own haunted experience by penning nonfiction profiles on other haunted locations, The Haunting of could become a fill-in-the-blank anthology series that relocates to another horrifying location with emotional depth. Flanagan, who’s in the middle of shooting an adaptation of Doctor Sleep, Stephen King’s sequel to The Shining, is open to the possibility.
“I think more than anything, the show is about haunted places and haunted people, as Steve says, and there’s no shortage of either,” he tells EW. “So, there’s any number of things we could do, in or out of Hill House.”