Published on January 3rd, 2020 | by Justin Bruce0
House of Leaves: The Screenplay
House of Leaves is the most amazingly bizarre book from the new millennium — they’re trying to make a TV version. Justin reads the screenplay.
Few words make get my stupid hipster blood pumping like “House of Leaves.” I didn’t get wise to Mark Z. Danielewski’s debut until long after its 2000 release, but I’ve been infatuated with the story ever since reading it. If you’re unfamiliar, this novel is an extremely demanding read. The book forces the reader to focus on multiple fragmented plotlines, some of which take place in multiple-page, run-on footnotes, to interpret hidden messages within the text, and to read upside down, sideways, and through some sorts of visual poetry; whether that sounds like an intriguing read or a goddamn nightmare is up to you. Part horror, part romance, and part satire, House of Leaves is a trip.
Since getting my hands on Danielewski’s debut, I’ve seen rumblings online and otherwise about when someone would try to turn the novel into a movie or TV series. Whenever talk of a House of Leaves movie or TV series comes up, I, and I’m sure many others, are left with the simple question of, “How?” How would it express how disorienting following the story’s four narrators is? How would it pull off the book’s odd choice to make certain words different colours? Even the author had long-dismissed a big screen adaptation. The consensus for many seemed to be something along the lines of, “Well, it’d be nice, but it’ll never happen.”
Cut to 2017, and ol’ MZD has apparently begun serious talks about developing a House of Leaves TV show. Fans, myself included, were understandably skeptical, but when Danielewski released the script for the potential pilot episode, they started to take things a little more seriously. (The link for the script is dead, but, using the power of the internet, I’m sure you can track it down.) Following the announcement, supporters kept their ears to the ground, but updates were fairly sparse.
Cut again to November 2019, and the House of Leaves Book Club is lighting up. The author’s short messages to the group from earlier in the month have been leading up to him releasing the scripts for the first three episodes, including a rewritten first episode, of his proposed series. MZD’s plan seems to be to release the first season in screenplay format to try and land a concrete deal to bring things to the small screen. Whatever his intention, the bizarre story of the house that’s bigger on the inside than on the outside might finally be taking to the screen.
Writers note – I’ll keep things as spoiler-free as possible regarding the episode scripts themselves, though I will be referencing some elements and events from the novel.
Despite my reservations, I cruised over to Patreon, figured out how Patreon works, and got to downloading. Three episodes in, and I have to say that I’m very happy with how things are shaping up. The proposed series isn’t a strict adaptation of the House of Leaves so much as it is a story that takes place within the House of Leaves universe.
Episode one has a similar vibe to the beginning of the novel, though updated to suit its modern-day setting. Instead of “The Five and a Half Minute Hallway” making regular appearances on late night talk shows, a new bizarre and unexplainable video, “The Keflavik Clip,” emerges on 4Chan and is making its rounds online. The clip is the subject of a prominent podcast and online video series which pops up throughout each episode. We’re soon introduced to Mélisande Avignon, a university professor who, like the Navidsons, is the subject of a documentary. A mysterious source delivers Mélisande a USB drive which contains an enormous amount of data, little of which we are privy to at this point. Eddie, the second major character to be introduced, has a vested interest in flash drive and its contents and seems to have access to some less-than-ethical resources to help get his hands on it.
There are numerous flashbacks and references to the events of House of Leaves as well as a few clips of Johnny Truant at a later state in his life. The most interesting direct references to the novel are the behind-the-scenes look we’re given into some of its events. New information on Johnny and Lude’s possession of Zamponó’s belongings comes to light along with some new footage from Karen and Will’s move into their new home. By the end of episode three, we’ve learned that Mélisande and Eddie have both played some role in the events of House of Leaves, each having interacted in varying degrees with Johnny Truant and the Navidson family.
These first three episodes do a good job capturing the House of Leaves feel. Danielewski is descriptive as always with the character dialogue and clearly has a plan for the look of each scene. At this point in the series, there’s nothing quite as off-putting as that “read it kinda sideways and also there’s a backwards textbox in the middle of the page” section from the novel, but the sense of uneasiness that MZD manages with his writing is in full swing.
If you’re a fan of House of Leaves, you’ll likely be a fan of these scripts. If you’re unfamiliar with the novel, however, I can’t imagine this is a good starting point. Mélisande and Eddie’s respective storylines would be easy to jump into for anybody, but their eventual weaving into the events of the novel isn’t going to do much for the uninitiated. MZD has previously claimed that he would be ending his work on House of Leaves in February 2020 if a TV deal doesn’t fall into place. Given what I’ve read in these first few episodes, I can’t see a deal on the horizon. These scripts are great if you’re hip to the events of the novel, but I don’t think the mass appeal is there. Having said that, we’re still a little ways from February and I’d love to be proven wrong. In the meantime, I’ll be keeping an eye out for the next script release.