top of page

Part 4: BOUND- The Demons of Olivia & Nell Crain

By Mo Moshaty May 19, 2024 

There's nothing quite like the helplessness of being responsible for another human being, let alone several. I remember, as a very new mother, the horrible scenarios I would imagine. The daring escapes we'd make my baby and me when met with natural disasters, the ruthless battles to the death the home invaders and I would face. The brutal redemption greeting the kidnapper that stole my child. Stuff like that. In that false valiancy, I knew that I was utterly terrified of failing, not being perfect, looking bad, looking dumb, under-prepared, too lax, not lax enough. 

Society has trained us like this. To always be striving to either prove society or ourselves wrong. In either case, you're going to screw it up, trial by fire or failure. That is the way.

When I first watched Mike Flanagan's The Haunting of Hill House, with all its intricate moving parts of character arc and development, each with its own particular cross to bear, my fixation fell on Olivia. She was everything that we're told to embody as a mother. Flexible - understanding fully that her children are vastly different and the responses, coaching and approach to each one need to be thus so. She speaks their language so fluently. She's open-minded, freely sharing with Mrs. Dudley her views on organized religion and unwillingness to make that choice for her children, choosing for them to make their own way. She's free-spirited, artistic, warm, and beautiful. 

But just like us, she's tortured. Olivia Crain is plagued with visions that she keeps mostly hidden. She confides seldomly in Hugh and passes them off to the children has horrible headaches. What we learn throughout "Hill House" is that the house is helping to ramp up the fear we all have as parents - not being able to save our family from harm. 

MV5BNjRkZTc0ZjctMTgxMy00ZDA5LWE5NzYtZmFmMzNjMDhhYWY0XkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyODExNTExMTM_._V1_.jpg

It's well (and often) said that Olivia has passed. Between Steve and Shirley's exchange regarding her death, it's clear that the Crain's have been outrunning scandal all their lives. Where the others choose to bury it, Steve has made an entire career out of it. Whichever you believe is true, Oliva died at Hill House. But how? Did Hill House kill Olivia, did Olivia let Hill House kill her OR did Hill House wrongly show Olivia how hopeless it all could be and she killed herself? There's something to support each which makes it all the more tragic, because they're not mutually exclusive. They're all true.

Olivia's brushes with terror find no real pattern, and that's the horrific part. As an audience we see her slowly escalating, but how much of it is Olivia simply believing that "it is what it is"? She's terrified that her "sensitivity" will pass down to her children, sending them down a path they can never recover from and it's in that sliver of fear that Hill House finds its roots within her.

 

So, what did happen to Olivia?

MV5BNzZmYWI0NTAtNmFiYi00MGJiLWFjM2MtZjc0OGYzZjM5MzVlXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyMjYxMDY3NjA_._V1_.jpg

There's heavy support for this theory due to ummm, all the damn ghosts in the house. Due to her gift, Olivia is susceptible to Poppy Hill, the main supernatural protagonist of the Hill House ghost crew. Poppy's got a back story of her own rife with tragedy and sees a kindred (ahem) spirit within Olivia. Sent away to a mental institution as a child due to a diagnosis of clinical insanity, Poppy grows up at the facility and subsequently meets her husband, William Hill. After marrying William and upon their release, they settled into Hill House, inherited by William from his father Jacob. Poppy and William have two children that tragically died and William, on the thought of suicide, walled himself up in the basement, but has a change of heart 3/4 of the way through causing him to asphyxiate. Hugh discovers his body as he attempts to clear out the basement mold.

 

Poppy tells Olivia that although her family is dead they still walk the house together, as they have "woken up" in Hill House. The house can keep them here, safe from the outside world. Music to the ears of an ailing Olivia, who witnessed everything from the pleading corpses of her adult twins, Luke and Nell, to getting lost in the house during the storm, losing time, and hallucinations. Feeling "eaten" by the house. The list goes on. 

Olivia's psychosis has made her a sitting duck for the house's motivations. To her, her fears have a very real capability to be realized and the house makes perfect sense. It's come to show her something - to validate her. Something Hugh, nor the kids will ever give her. They'll never know how hard she tries to be the perfect protector, how her internal struggle is eating her from the inside out, but Hill House understands. Hill House will show her. Hill House will eat her up, body and soul.

The night of Olivia's death is a flurry of activity and mania. Olivia has trapped Luke, Nell, and Abigail Dudley (whom Olivia thinks is a ghost) in the Red Room, referred to throughout the show as the heart of the home. Within this room, Olivia will protect them forever. Within this room, no one can stop her from being the perfect protector. 

Her plan to poison the children goes awry as Abigail is the first to die, affirming to Olivia that she is in fact a very real girl. The children scream, alerting Hugh to their whereabouts. Hugh breaks in to rescue the children but Olivia pleads to him for their return. To her, he's pulling them further into danger the further they are from her. Poppy was right, he's letting them die, outside in that cruel, cold world. It's at the very peak of her psychotic break that Olivia falls from the spiral staircase. Ending the panic the house has created for a while. 

Olivia dies alone, left within the walls of Hill House and all its screaming meemies, instead of with her children. Her failure as the perfect protector complete. Hill House ate her up. 

The Haunting of Hill House - Season One - Review - Always Our Forever Home (1).PNG

Being the youngest is never easy. As the youngest of three, my days of ribbing and admonishment have been well served. And as much as folks say the youngest gets all the attention, there's a fragility and transparency to being the youngest. We can take on a glass-like quality and, at worst, a mirror-like quality. 

Eleanor (Nellie) Crain (Vance). Full of wonder and bubbles. Of crayons and spectacular imagination...and anxiety. Like most "babies" of the family, Nell is playing catch up to the ones around her. She's got a sweet teammate in her twin, Luke but for the most part, Nell is a stranger in a strange land. Her unrequited feelings of belonging and isolation feed into her own self-doubt and self-worth well into her adulthood. One of the most poignant scenes that reflects this is in Episode 6 "Two Storms" when the power goes out at Hill House and as the family frantically searches for flashlights and candles, Nell disappears. Last seen and felt holding onto Shirley's hand, Nell is nowhere to be found. After an unbearable time for all involved, especially Olivia, Nell reappears, explaining she'd been there the whole time, screaming and pleading. 

"No one heard me. Why didn't you hear me? I was screaming and jumping nobody could see me! Why couldn't you see me?"

That phrase is a metaphor for her whole life. 

The family's dismissiveness of her sensitivities after Olivia's death permeates her self-image. Steve calls her a fabricator, crazy, an over-exaggerator, and too nervous. Shirley thinks she's always been "a little out there". Theo understands to a point but sides with Shirley. Outside of Luke looking up to her, he's never quite taken at face value. When Hugh returns for her funeral he's admonished for many things but most importantly, his tendency to feed into Nell's "fantasies", the most prominent - The Bent-Neck Lady.

Bent-Neck lady shows up at the most traumatic times in her life. 

tmp_9pWpMa_927cca0b4bf36b9c_Screen_Shot_2018-10-11_at_11.52.50_PM.webp

The Bent-Neck Lady plagues young Nell at Hill House, standing at the foot of her bed, hovering over her on the family couch. With the steadfast belief that she is real, The Bent-Neck Lady has arrived when she is the most frightened and when abrupt change is about to be forced upon her. As a child, she appears to Nellie as she's:

  • Adjusting to a new house

  • Having several nightmares

As an adult, Nell experiences sleep paralysis and new recurrent visions of The Bent-Neck Lady. At a sleep center, she'd been assured by technologist, Arthur Vance, who assures her that visions are common with sleep paralysis. The two begin to see quite a bit of each other after that and on New Year's, Arthur proposes. At the wedding, Nell believes she sees visions of her mother at the reception. 

Nell's spirit is happy, calm, fiercely loved and steady. The Bent-Neck Lady has vanished. Until -

One night, Nell awakens in full paralysis, waking Arthur, he gets up to turn on the room light, and he collapses due to an aneurysm. At the foot of the bed is The Bent Neck Lady. 

Fully believing that The Bent-Neck Lady chooses to steal her happiness at every turn, she relies on her therapist and family who again dismiss and invalidate her. 

Her next instance of seeing her is driving Luke to pick up one last dose of heroin before he heads into rehab. Understandably having misgivings, Nell does it anyway. In the pouring rain, in the center of the street. Nell again sees The Bent Neck Lady.

 

After months of having medication issues, Nell again relies on tether of her now partially-estranged family, no thanks to Steve's tell-all book, "The Haunting of Hill House". Nell is spiraling and has a horrific vision of an overdosed Luke lying on her hotel ceiling. Incidentally the same hotel the family stayed at after Olivia's death. She reaches out to Steve - no answer, Shirley, no answer. She finally leaves a voicemail for Steve that she's terribly worried about Luke. 

screen-shot-2018-10-13-at-3-21-09-am1.webp

Standing at the hotel's soda machine, Nell notices the lights begin to dim. And then, go out completely. And what should be standing in the shadows as a glimmer of light kicks on? 

It's at this moment Nell makes the conscious choice to head straight back to Hill House in all of its soul-sucking glory. Heading into the dilapidated home, it seems that Nell's touch springs it back to life. She's greeted by her siblings, who haven't aged. By her late husband for one last dance and for one last hug from her mommy. In her hallucination, Nell believes she's been given her mother's locket that she adored so much. But alas - it's a noose. 

What follows is a heartbreaking sequence of every time Nell sees The Bent Neck Lady but this time, it's from the opposite perspective. She sees now that Nell has been the ghost of her own life. Her own worst enemy. She's traveled through time, through agony and pain and now she's free. That pain has led or followed her to:

  • Meeting Arthur

  • Losing Arthur

  • Leaving Luke, the last time she'd be alive to see him

  • Heading to Hill House

Both Nell and Olivia's energy entwined with Hill House and although Nell escaped with her life once, its tendrils reached miles and decades to still inflict the pain it wanted. It swallowed them both. 

The things I always come back with the other characters concerning Nell and Olivia is the unwillingness to believe them. 

Hugh sees more than the children and is focused on Liv spending time away - heeding the voice of reason that is Mr. Dudley. 

But Steve has literally made a career out of hoarding their experience and channeling it into some fantastical. A skeptic through and through, impenetrable. Then why does Nell choose Steve to appear to? Because the family would believe Steve. She could've easily come to Hugh - who would've been dismissed as a crackpot. Or to Luke who would have been accused of being high, Shirley is a non-starter, and Theo, even with all of her gifts would have dismissed it as her own failing senses taking hold. 

But it's like Hugh tells Steve “Some things you can't tell, you had to live it”. And for both Olivia and Nell, they also had to die with it. 

E-I-C-cropped_edited_edited_edited.jpg

Mo Moshaty is a horror writer, lecturer and producer. As a Cognitive Behavioral Therapist and life long horror fan, Mo has lectured with Prairie View A&M Film & TV Program as a Keynote, BAFSS Horror Studies Sig  and The University of Sheffield in the United Kingdom. Mo has partnered with horror giant, Shudder Channel, to co-produce the 13 Minutes of Horror Film Festival 2021 and 2022 with Nyx Horror Collective and her literary work "Love the Sinner" was published with Brigid's Gate Press in July of 2023 and her two volume collection, "Clairviolence: Tales of Tarot and Torment Vol. One and Two" will be published in the Summer and Winter of 2024

Mo is the creator and Editor-in-Chief of NightTide Magazine

bottom of page