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Credit: Netflix 

Grief and twisted fairy tales on You and The Haunting of Hill House

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Jan 31, 2020

On the surface, The Haunting of Hill House and You share very little in common beyond the streaming platform they call home and certain similarities between the two characters Victoria Pedretti portrays. One is a supernatural family drama, the other a twisted romance examining the thin line between a cutesy grand gesture and obsessive love.

A warped fairy tale threads through the tragedy-infused stories that Pedretti's characters are at the heart of, incorporating the grief and trauma of losing a husband at a very young age into the overall narrative. Not only is Pedretti playing a widow for the second time in You, but she is also a twin to an addict brother on both shows. Nevertheless, a co-dependent relationship with one person doesn’t mean she doesn’t have the bandwidth to embrace another or go to extremes in the name of love.

Spoilers ahead for Season 2 of You.  

Credit: Netflix 

Horror as a manifestation of grief and trauma is a common theme, whether dealing with the death of a child in Don’t Look Now, a spouse in The Babadook, or your entire family as Dani (Florence Pugh) experiences in Midsommar. Scary movies often take the worst thing that could happen to a person and double down on the pain through monsters, ghosts, or violent acts. If you thought your misery had reached the depths of despair, guess again. The events of Hill House and You are distinct from the other, but the death of a spouse coupled with a dysfunctional upbringing underscores both Nell Crain and Love Quinn’s desire for a regular family. This ideal keeps slipping further away and they share an extreme reaction to obstacles threatening the happily ever after. 

In a cruel twist of fate for Haunted House’s Nell, it is revealed midway through the season that the specter plaguing her is a terrifying vision of her future: She is the Bent-Neck Lady. The screams through time are a warning from her future self, but out of context, this apparition seems intent on causing harm. In a good news/bad news scenario, without the images that accompany her sleep paralysis, she might not have met her future husband Arthur Vance (Jordane Christie).

Credit: Netflix 

A meet-cute worthy of a rom-com lays the groundwork for what will be a tragically brief union. Arthur is the sleep tech at the clinic Nell visits in an attempt to banish the spirit of her sleep paralysis — which has followed her since the childhood summer spent at Hill House. A period of happiness follows via a montage set to "All You Got Is Gold" by The Great Escape. This sequence could be straight out of one of Joe's fantasies from You, but there is nothing sinister about Nell and Arthur. Instead, the ease and intimacy are authentic, culminating in a New Year’s Eve proposal via a ring in the champagne at the stroke of midnight. In this specific window of time, her life was not a nightmare. Maybe she could get the fairy tale ending after all?

Her wedding day is tinged with sadness as a result of an absent mother and her twin brother being too strung out to attend. Nevertheless, Nell appears to be happy and content despite the missing family members. She dances with her husband in a sequence that will be repeated under less cheerful circumstances later in the episode. Despite the lighter tone of earlier scenes, The Haunting of Hill House is obviously not a rom-com. Instead of a breakup following an awkward misunderstanding before a happily ever after, Arthur drops dead in the middle of the night.

Credit: Netflix

This would be a nightmare under any circumstances, but his aneurysm coincides with an appearance from the Bent-Neck Lady. This is a "two for the price of one" deal in the horrifying ordeal column. Instead of a disrupted boundary between a dream state and being awake, the line has been crossed between two separate realms. For Nell, death has been lingering in the shadows since she was 6 years old, taking her mother, her husband, and any semblance of a happy life. After some particularly terrible advice from her therapist as she slips further into her grief, she returns to the scene of familial trauma. Hill House gives Nell everything she has ever wanted: Her entire family is there to celebrate her reunion with Arthur. But everything about this fairy-tale-style waltz with her husband is a lie. Rather, the house has pulled Nell back into its belly and there is no escape. Only death awaits her.

In You, the monsters lingering in the shadows are flesh and blood, as opposed to malevolent spirits using dreams to manipulate. Fairy tales still provide the foundation of Joe Goldberg’s (Penn Badgley) delusions after the first season, leaning hard into the Bluebeard analogy. Joe loves books, and his obsessive personality stems from a childhood marked by domestic violence and abandonment. In Season 2, Love Quinn becomes the new object of his affection — a dangerous title if his previous pattern of murder in the name of romance is anything to go by. However, Love is more than capable of dealing with tragedy and difficult circumstances: Joe has met his match when it comes to the lengths and risks someone will go to in order to save her relationship. We wouldn’t recommend either approach. 

Credit: Netflix

Love’s list of crimes rivals Joe’s: She killed the family au pair after she was embroiled in a predatory sexual relationship with her twin brother Forty (James Scully). Although she did let him believe that he was the one who killed her, their parents covered it up as a suicide. Luke's heroin habit is a result of the ghosts that haunt him beyond Hill House; for Forty, he gets high to blot out a murder he didn't actually commit. She also took out an investigative reporter (and former Joe hook-up) Delilah (Carmela Zumbado), and I am still convinced her husband did not die of a natural illness. It is convenient that he got sick after he told his wife he did not want kids. This early demise has slow poisoning written all over it.

Love Quinn just wants to be part of a happy family, something she has never experienced beyond her relationship with her twin. Her husband's death allows her to play the grieving widow card until she is ready to get back on the relationship train. A fraught relationship with her parents — they provide everything except for unconditional love free from criticism — has left an aching hole in her heart that not even a co-dependent bond with her brother can fill. Nell's grief transformed into a fixation on the house that she blames for her husband and mother's deaths, whereas Love is set on replacing her deceased partner with an upgrade. And just like Joe, she is willing to do anything in the name of romance. Trauma has shaped how Love and Joe interact with each other, which has made them fiercely protective and delusional, a terrifying combination for anyone who gets in their way or discovers their secret. Not even her twin is worth more to her than the object of her affection. 

Credit: Netflix 

For Joe, the spell of Love is broken when he finds out she is a killer, just like him. She is no longer the perfect princess to be rescued, but rather the evil witch or stepmother figure. She has one more card up her sleeve as she is finally pregnant with the child she believes will fix everything. It saves her life, but this bandaid baby can't cover the deep wounds of their twisted actions. 

Ghosts come in many different forms, and each young widow is forced to confront personal demons with varying devastating results. The past cannot be beaten into submission with ease, and nor can grief. Nell cannot get back what was lost to her within the walls of Hill House, and Love cannot manifest her dream family when so much blood has been spilled. Netflix has confirmed Season 3 of the grisly love story, including Pedretti's return, and the actress will also be starring in the anthology sequel to The Haunting of Hill House. In a recent interview with The New York Times, Pedretti noted a link between this forthcoming project and her current one: "Both You and The Haunting of Bly Manor emphasize this idea that we can choose our family." Get ready for another installment in this warped version of Happy Families.

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