The Best-Selling Novel Begging To Become A Psychological Horror Thriller

By Robert Scucci | Published

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Of all the horror novels that are begging to be adapted into a film or series, I have to say that Mark Z. Danielewski’s House of Leaves has so much untapped potential that needs to be explored. While I have no idea how such a monolithic feat of cinematic storytelling could be accomplished, I’d be willing to give a blank check made out to “cash” to any willing participant if I were in another tax bracket. While I admit that the source material is probably more unwieldy than Dune or The Stand, I think somebody smarter than me would be able to helm either a brilliant feature-length film or miniseries that attempts to unpack the multiple narratives found within House of Leaves’ pages. 

There’s Nothing Like House Of Leaves

To explain the premise of this piece of ergodic literature, I first need to briefly explain its unique format. House of Leaves is not a conventional work of fiction, and much of the unease you’ll experience while reading has to do with how the words are laid out on its pages. 

For example, passages in House of Leaves that are meant to make you feel anxious with anticipation involve stretches of pages that only have a couple of words printed on them. Conversely, the more claustrophobic passages in the narrative are so densely packed with varying fonts, symbols, and editorial interjections that you need to turn the book upside down at points to actually read the words. There are even some instances where you need to hold the book up to a mirror to decipher some of the text because it’s written backward. 

Hallways Are Terrifying

Fancy word salad aside, House of Leaves tells a number of horrifying interconnected stories, all aiming to critically analyze a documentary called The Navidson Record, which functions as the novel’s narrative anchor point. The Navidson Record centers on the life of Will Navidson, a famed photojournalist who moves into a new house in the southeast Virginia countryside with his wife, Karen, and his two young children, Chad and Daisy. Wanting to settle down and document a simpler life with his family, Navidson sets up a number of motion-sensing cameras throughout his house to candidly chronicle his family’s life in the new house. 

While taking measurements for some renovations, Navidson is confused by how the inside dimensions of the house suggest higher square footage than the house’s outside dimensions could contain. When the Navidson family returns from a short vacation, they’re horrified to find a mysterious doorway in their living room. Upon opening the door, Navidson discovers a dark hallway that seemingly has no end. 

Obsession With An Old House

The rest of The Navidson Report, as described in House of Leaves, becomes a documentary about Navidson’s subsequent travels down the hallway and into a shape-shifting labyrinth that’s eerily silent aside from a mysterious roar heard coming from the darkness that’s never explained. Becoming completely obsessed with the hallway, Navidson recruits a team of explorers and engineers and embarks on a harrowing expedition into the underbelly of the house as his personal life rapidly deteriorates.

A Manuscript And A Mystery

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There’s one glaring problem that I think any filmmaker will run into if they ever decide to adapt House of Leaves into a film or series: The Navidson Report is said to not actually exist. We’re hearing about the film second-hand through the manuscript of a character named Zampanò. His dissertation on The Navidson Report maybe his life’s work, but he’s not a reliable film critic because he’s blind as a bat. 

By proxy, House of Leaves is narrated by a young man named Johnny Truant, who stumbles upon the deceased Zampanò’s manuscript at the beginning of the novel (are you still with me?). Becoming obsessed with completing Zampanò’s manuscript, Truant also functions as The Navidson Record’s primary editor, taking a number of creative liberties and adding his own footnotes while his own life spirals out of control. Johnny immediately admits to being an amazing liar and unreliable narrator, which is supported by even more footnotes from a number of uncredited editors. 

Translating From Book To Screen


I tried not to be exhaustive in my rundown of House of Leaves, but this is just the basic narrative framework that the book has to offer. And I actually don’t know how one would even begin to write a screenplay for this intimidating tome. All I know is that sometime within my lifetime, I’d love to see this movie be made because House of Leaves truly deserves to have a fully realized cinematic counterpart.