|Bloody Mary. Bloody Mary. Bloody Mary.
Say it three times while looking into a mirror and the most horrific lady will show up ready to kill you.
At least, that’s how the urban legend goes.
I was 8 years old when I was first exposed to this terror.
Everything about the encounter was creepy >> Distant cousin takes me into the bathroom, turns off the lights, holds me up to the mirror, and tells me to wait as he chants her name three times. . .
And the lights fly on.
Since then, I’ve not been a big fan of over-the-top horror.
“The real world is filled with enough fear and trauma,” I’ve always told my kids. “I don’t need to spend two hours of my life watching a pretend version of it on TV.”
And that’s been my hard and fast rule for the last 35 years.
Until this week.
|I’m not sure if I wanted to bond with my 14-year-old horror-movie-loving son or if I was just bored with traditional drama, but for some reason, I settled into this 10-hour Netflix series and entered into the trance of a full-on binge.
Released in 2018, The Haunting of Hill House is a supernatural horror drama that follows the life of one family.
In 1992, this family moved into Hill House, and nearly 30 years later, its power still haunts them.
The series has all the classic marks of any self-respecting horror film: Ghosts, surprise scares, gore.
But it also has something else. . . and it’s this something else that sucked me in and held me tight.
You see, the series parades as a horror drama, but it’s really an exploration of tragedy, of grief, and of family bonds. Past the veneer of ghosts and gore, The Haunting of Hill House has managed to perfectly reflect the pain a family endures as a result of mental illness, suicide, and addiction.
I’ve talked before about the concept of the phenomenological nod. It’s a measuring tool that some of the most intuitive storytellers use as they gauge the truth and relevance of their story. If others can nod their heads in agreement and say, “yeah. . . I can see that being a real possibility,” then you know you’ve tapped into the phenomenological nod to reflect a viable lived experience.
Put another way: The phenomenological nod is a storyteller’s insurance policy, confirming that the story you’re telling is actually one people can relate to.
And as I sat there, watching episode after episode, I knew I had fallen under the spell of this phenomenological nod.
>>I knew the characters’ reaction to suicide was genuine because I lived the same response 15 years ago after my cousin took his own life.
>>I felt their heartache over mental illness because I’ve watched it leave its imprints on generations of my own family.
>>And I believed their responses as they faced down addiction because I’ve stood by loved ones who’ve struggled to escape its grip.
So all their monologues, their unspoken moments, their facial expressions. . . all the moments tucked in between the classic and expected themes of horror. . . every bit of it is what turned this series into something more than.
It was more than a horror story.
It was more than supernatural.
It was more than gore and ghosts.
And here’s what gets me about that>> It would have been easy for director Mike Flanagan to just stick to the script.
Horror stories abound, and while everyone knows exactly what to expect, they always come back for more. Flanagan could have taken a straight read from author Shirley Jackson’s original book, but instead, he looked deeper than the pages and developed a story that redefined what horror can be.
“Look at it as a remix,” he said to Den of Geek author Louisa Mellor. “It was more interesting to break down the book and pull out the characters and the themes and individual moments and pieces of prose, even, that had really stuck with me, and try to rearrange it.”
Flanagan didn’t set out just to get a quick scare, and he didn’t aim to create the same-old, same-old.
Flanagan set out to tell a story.
And to do that, he focused on character, on theme, on moments, and on conversations.
And this is why I sat there at the very end with tears rolling down my eyes, trying desperately to not be seen by anyone in my family because how in the world could I explain crying to a horror series????
Friends, it is so easy to get caught up in the right way of doing things.
It can be so hard to step back from the expected narrative of our lives, and even easier to describe ourselves with language that feels safe and proven.
But what might happen if you take just a moment to really think about the characters, the themes, the individual moments, and the conversations in your life>> the ones that have made life super hard and the ones that have made life super beautiful?
It’s ALL playing a part in the story you need to tell, but too often, we work to compartmentalize those pieces of our stories.
We think that what we did 20 years ago plays no role in what we’re doing today. . . or worse. . . we fear that what we did 20 years ago will betray our progress today.
But this life we live?
This life we live is so, so, so very short, and we delude ourselves when we think that each moment in our story isn’t somehow playing a grand part in our final chapter.
Our moments aren’t (as Nell says in Hill House) dominoes that stack in a straight line; rather, they’re falling all around us like rain. . . and it’s our job to tune in and look closely so we can live OUR story, rather than mimic someone else’s.
Maybe you feel a little trapped in someone else’s story today.
Maybe it’s the story of the entrepreneur who makes 7-figures, or the brand leader who never lives a bad day, or the business coach who helps everyone else sort out their vision. . . and maybe somewhere in that story, you feel a little crushed or lost or confused because you aren’t quite sure how to fit YOUR story into the mold.
And if that’s you, please know that there is another way to write (and live) your story.
It starts by going deeper than the book.
It starts by being willing to challenge the modus operandi.
It starts by pulling out all the pieces of who you are, getting them out there in the open, and then finding the pieces that work for the story you need to tell.
Want help doing that? Let’s chat.