Netflix’s supernatural series The Umbrella Academy and The Haunting of Hill House have an awful lot in common.
I was two or three episodes into Netflix’s latest comic book adaptation, The Umbrella Academy, when I realized that this whole thing seemed very familiar.
Dark, grimly funny, and deeply strange, The Umbrella Academy felt a whole lot like another recent tale ripe with arcane tragedy, the unbreakable bonds between siblings, a creepy house and a hell of a lot of death: The Haunting of Hill House, which came to Netflix late last year.
Sure, there are differences. The Haunting of Hill House is set in more-or-less our own world, plus, you know, ghosts; The Umbrella Academy exists in a strange mashup of semi-familiar realities, all of which have skipped over the existence of cellphones and the internet. Umbrella Academy has superpowers and snappier costumes, while Hill House leaves the competition in the dust as far as jump-scares go. (Which is probably a good thing.)
But even with these variations taken into account, I still can’t help but think that these two Netflix series are pretty much the same show. Skeptical? I’ll prove it to you.
How ‘Haunting of Hill House’ and ‘Umbrella Academy’ are the same show
The big death
Both The Haunting of Hill House and The Umbrella Academy kick off when a crowd of estranged siblings reunite after an unexpected death in the family. The deaths of Nellie and Sir Reginald respectively not only bring both the Crain and Hargreeves families back together so the action can begin, they also reignite old familial conflicts, including tension over previous losses of other family members that they have suffered in the intervening years.
The central dramatic energy in both shows comes from the conflicts, old patterns, and chemistry among the reunited siblings. There are fights and falling outs, moments of sisterly bonding gone wrong, awkward funerals, and plenty of alcohol to lubricate the tension. Like the Hargreeves, the Crain family is forced to confront the painful events of their haunted past, as well as the choices that have been made in the interim.
The Umbrella Academy and The Haunting of Hill House even feature similar archetypes among the grown children. Steven Crain and Vanya Hargreeves have both written tell-all books about their families which distance them from their siblings. And Luke (Hill House) and Klaus (Umbrella) each grapple with serious drug addictions as a way of escaping the ghosts in their pasts.
Speaking of ghosts, both shows feature prominent and ongoing action with the spirits of the departed. Obviously, ghosts are everywhere in The Haunting of Hill House (it’s in the title!) found in the long-dead families who possess the house, and are embedded in so many scenes. The Umbrella Academy too features scenes of confrontation with hoards of the dead, courtesy of Klaus’ talent.
But it’s the personal element combined with the spiritual that really connects the two shows. Nellie and Olivia’s ghosts take active roles in Hill House, powerfully influencing the surviving Crains, — just as it’s the ghost of Ben Hargreeves who pushes Klaus along his personal journey toward embracing his gift.
It’s all dad’s fault
While there is really no limit to the number of traumas that the Crane and Hargreeves families need resolved, The Umbrella Academy and The Haunting of Hill House both focus those issues in their father figures. The Hargreeves children consider Sir Reginald to have thoroughly wrecked their lives with superhero training, painful discipline, and virtually no affection. The Crane siblings consider blame their father for their mother’s death, and the resulting dissolution of the family structure.
In both cases, the reality is somewhat more complicated. But the sins of the fathers are powerful motivating factors through the action of both stories — and prove critical lynchpins in resolving the conflicts of both Hill House and The Umbrella Academy.
A rooted and unnerving sense of place is a primary identifying factor of both The Haunting of Hill House and The Umbrella Academy. Both shows revolve around a distinctive, old fashioned, and elaborate house which hides youthful memories and shattering secrets.
Hill House and The Umbrella Academy even share the similarity of having distinctly strange caretakers.(Umbrella Academy’s anthropomorphized monkey-butler Pogo and robot-mom Grace are certainly weirder, but Hill House’s Mr. and Mrs. Dudley aren’t exactly ordinary.)
Again and again, the families Hargreeves and Crane are drawn back to the scene of their tragedies and traumas. They reenact the past in bedrooms, basements, kitchens. They respond to old stimuli, remember the critical, agonizing moments that defined their young lives. And most importantly, they rediscover hidden places they have never been able to understand — the Red Room of Hill House and Vanya’s soundproof cell.
And ultimately, both shows carry the names of these houses in their titles for a reason — both stories find their root and identity in these old places. Whether through magic or through instinct, the characters of each are inextricably bound to the creaking cradles where all the mystery and trauma began. There is no escape without resolution; no one can move on without opening that last, frightening door, and seeing what’s inside.
The Haunting of Hill House and The Umbrella Academy are now available for streaming (and comparison) on Netflix.