Netflix's Haunting anthology seems bent on proving the book is better
I don't tend to put much emphasis on the old cliché that the book is better than the movie. Aside from the fact that the person who finds every opportunity to mention that they "don't own a TV" has the same self-congratulation, it just doesn't get checked. Of course, great adaptations have been made to great literature - Alfred Hitchcock's 1963 thriller The Birds, based on the Daphne du Maurier short story of the same name, comes to mind as a personal favorite - and arguing about what is "better" is lacking in any work his own individual identity.
Netflix's Haunting anthology seems out to prove me wrong. Each season has focused on a different haunted literary house, with the first two rather ambitiously tackling what Stephen King once described as "the only two great supernatural novels in the last hundred years," Shirley Jackson's The Haunting of Hill House a year 2018, and The Haunting of Bly Manor, based on Henry James' Turn of the Screw, on Friday. While each season, like Hitchcock's The Birds, is only an "adaptation" in the broadest sense, modernizing the novels and being creative with the plot isn't the problem. Rather, by suggesting a comparison at all, the Haunting anthology shows how watered down it is compared to its source material.
Speaking to Den of Geek in 2018, Mike Flanagan, writer and director of Haunting, stated that Hill House should be considered "a remix." "It was more interesting," he said, "breaking down the book and pulling out the characters and themes and individual moments and prose pieces that really caught my eye and trying to rearrange it." Still, it's a bit like tearing down the Pyramid of Giza or the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum - a structurally brilliant and precise work - and trying to build something out of the rubble. Admittedly, Flanagan had been asked to tackle the impossible project of converting Shirley Jackson's 150-page novel - perhaps the largest first paragraph in all English-language literature - into the ten-hour format of a Netflix television show. But while it is being "remixed," Hill House removes Jackson's psychological subtleties and literally what it left behind in the subtext.
It didn't matter to the fans; The customization for 2018 is scary, and sometimes that's all you need. But I agree with Newsday critic Verne Gay, who wondered why Netflix bothered to keep the title in the first place if it would undo so many of the book's intentions: "Haunting is so far removed from the original source material that it is is more. " A demolition as an adaptation, "he argued, suggesting that the comparison with Jackson's Hill House would only look weaker. New Yorker Emily Nussbaum was even less friendly and more to the point:" The bigger problem, "she wrote, "is that the sharpness of the original story - its unusual vision of how fear destroys identity, its insight into social outsiders - has been drained, honed, and then renovated with goop-y-self-help truisms about grief and healing. "The remix actually declaims the original.
The new season of Haunting, based on Henry James' Turn of the Screw, is perhaps even more egregious if you disregard the source material. For one thing, it's just not very scary. This is a remarkable achievement in and of itself, as Turn of the Screw is such a terrifying novel that it even freaked out its own writer when he did revisions: "When I finished [correcting the evidence] I was like that scared that I was afraid to go upstairs to bed, "James told his friend in 1898. The Independent called the book "the most hopelessly evil story we could have read in any literature," which would have made a pretty big blurb. But while there is a handful of jump scares and string crescendos in The Haunting of Bly Manor, the imagery is nowhere near as disruptive as its predecessor. Instead, the show uses crutches from the horror genre: creepy kids; scary children's drawings; creepy dolls; a creepy, ill-advised game of hide-and-seek in the haunted house; a creepy, soaked ghost lady à la Ring; a creepy doppelganger. It's all so by numbers that it causes more yawns than chills. When the brother throws his sister's doll in the laundry chute and it has to be fetched from the basement it's hard not to react, oh right, I know how this one goes.
Most confusing, however, is the fact that Bly Manor instigates the main central tension of Turn of the Screw: the governess's sanity. Almost immediately, the show confirms that the ghosts at Bly Manor are definitely real, though this issue is so hotly debated in the literary community that the opposing factions actually have names: the apparitionists who argue that Bly's ghosts are real and the not Apparitionists who argue that the narrator is unreliable and that the phantoms are in her head. As writer Colm Tóibín (whose novel The Master is about James) wrote for The Guardian in 2006: "For anyone thinking of making a film about history, this ambiguity has been a godsend." Right: Why did Netflix 'Bly Manor rob it of its primary suspense?
Both Netflix's Hill House and Bly Manor end on optimistic notes, without the fear that Jackson and James cultivate with their words. It's okay that they both wanted to be their own projects, but nothing significant is gained by throwing out what made their source material great. I wish Netflix and the show's creators had been confident enough in their visions to detach the stories from the recognizable literary titles or allow the audience to do some of the work of understanding the metaphors themselves. As it stands, comparing the books to the adaptation is inconvenient, not because the Haunting writers are not on par with Jackson and James - who is that? - but because the sources cited only emphasize what the show lacks.
When Hitchcock expressed his interest in du Maurier's "The Birds", he once said: "If the story had been about vultures or birds of prey, I might not have wanted it. The basic attraction for me is that it is about everyday life too has to do. " Birds. Do you understand what I mean? "While his film is barely recognizable from du Maurier's original allegory of the British War, it honors the horror of the familiar and how eeriness can be built by slapping a once-friendly world lightly, violently and crookedly. Replace in the Haunting anthology" literal ghosts "through" birds of prey, "and you begin to understand the massive flaw of its creators. If the show tackled the du Maurier story in a later third season - say, The Haunting of the Cornish Farm House - you would be on Vulture set.
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