Yes, this is an ode to the one and only Mike Flanagan. Of all the horror creators out there, Mike Flanagan was put on the radar with his film Oculus. He has taken on bigger names ever since then, with The Haunting series and two Stephen King adaptations. With his highly anticipated horror series Midnight Mass releasing today, now’s the time to jump into the Flanagan void and review all that he’s done for the horror industry thus far. So strap in, and let’s go back all the way to 2011.
Despite its lower budget and narrow release, this was the film that got people talking about Mike Flanagan. It also was where he found his writing niche in the atmospheric, slow burn horror. This movie focuses on two sisters that go looking for clues after the protagonist’s–Tricia–husband disappears. Seven years later, she comes to accept his death in absentia and move on with her life, considering she is now pregnant and it seems that everything else in her life has moved forward. Upon signing the death certificate, she finds her husband beaten and bloodied on her doorstep. He confesses to her sister that something took him “underneath” in the tunnel near their house, something not human.
There is a lot of weaving between what’s real or not due to drug abuse and supposed hallucinations. These are the things that makes Flanagan’s horror writing so good, as he is able to blend real life conditions into fictional, outlandish horror. It makes it even scarier in a sense, as it reflects this feeling that something like this could happen to yourself. He integrates real life issues in a lot of his work, especially substance abuse. Overall, this film had a budget of $70,000, and despite its lower budget, Flanagan utilizes his directing to create the scares rather than using cheap jumpscares.
The next big project launched Flanagan like a catapult. The catapult had Blumhouse labeled across it, and he took on Oculus, an original short film turned full length feature. He was given over 4.5 million more in his budget than the last film. Therefore, there was a lot of pressure to deliver on a film focusing on a cursed mirror. Oculus focuses on two siblings Kaylie and Tim, who plan on uncovering what happened the night their parents were killed. Kaylie believes it is a cursed mirror that caused the unfortunate events. Tim–just recently discharged from a psychiatric hospital–grapples with the belief that him and his sister are severely mentally ill.
This movie delivers an epic twist that also puts you in the place of the protagonists, as the viewer does not know what to believe until the very end. It’s another tragic ending, which is a key piece of Flanagan’s writing wheelhouse. The topic of mental illness versus the supernatural comes up a lot in Flanagan’s work, most prominently The Haunting of Hill House. Following his movie timeline, we can see him experiment with a lot of topics leading up to that work. Another thing that is admirable is the next works we see from Flanagan is his collaborations with his wife Kate Siegel, who he met on set of this film.
2016: The Year of Flanagan
When I think of Mike Flanagan, this is usually the first film that comes to mind. In this film, Flanagan takes on a traditional slasher film but turns it on its head by having a deaf and mute protagonist played by Kate Siegel. This whole concept was cooked up when Siegel mentioned she would like to tackle on a role of someone with a communicative disability. Immediately led Flanagan to write a horror piece surrounded that concept. Her disabilities should put her at a major disadvantage, at least the killer thinks it should. However, she is also a writer. She is well versed in coming up with creative moves for her protagonists that she writes. Therefore, her quick problem solving has Hush play out like a violent game of chess.
This slasher falls in the same category as The Strangers did, in which the killer has no motivation other than malicious intent. This is what makes the film even scarier, as he is written with such a personality. Most of the slashers we watch, the killer barely gets any lines. In Hush, the killer has the same framework as Billy Loomis in Scream, as he talks just to hear himself talk. This is even more frightening, as it seems like he is talking to us more than he is the protagonist. She can only read lips when looking at him, while we hear everything he spews out of his mouth. This film is brilliant, and easily one of the best horror films in the past decade.
Before I wake
If only this film wasn’t in production hell, I believe it would have garnered a much larger press coverage as well as box office. Flanagan began this project back in 2013, and it is his first attempt at a PG-13 horror film. Much like all of his other works, this film deals with grief and family dynamics as much as it deals with its horror elements. It deals with heavy topics such as child loss and parent loss. Therefore if one is sensitive to those topics, I suggest preparing or possibly skipping this film. Despite its heavy topics and mild critical panning, it was a passion project of Flanagan’s and should be respected as such.
In this film, foster parents Mark and Jessie welcome home Cody. Cody confides in them about his fear of sleeping. Though seeming like a childlike fear at first, the couple come to realize quite quickly that the boy’s dreams become highly animated in reality. So much so, that the boy is able to dream their dead son back into existence, or so it seems. There is consequences for this, as the lines of imagination and reality become blurred. It is a creative film that may be hindered a bit by its PG-13 rating, but overall it deserves an honorable mention in his repertoire.
Oujia: Origin of Evil
2014’s Ouija was definitely not asking for a sequel. However, with an astounding profit gained from its theater release, it was inevitable. I believe that this film is a shining example of what a PG-13 horror film should be. You can find my further opinions on PG-13 horror here: PG-13 Horror: Is it Just for Box Office? Anyways, this prequel surpasses the original and then some. Mike Flanagan once again focuses on the family dynamic, pulling away from the original’s traditional teenager subjects. This is also the beginning of Flanagan’s regular rotation of actors, as most of the actors in this film feature in later works of his, especially Henry Thomas and Kate Siegel, as mentioned previously.
Taking place in 1967, a widowed mother supports her and her two daughters through a séance scam ran out of her home. Her oldest daughter suggests to add a Ouija board to legitimize her service even more. When left alone, the youngest daughter uses it in hopes that she could communicate with her recently deceased father. An evil spirit takes advantage of the young girl. What plays out is a unique possession film that packs in quite the scares as well as a whole lot of heart. I think that the predecessor sadly overshadowed this film, and will go down a modern classic. If you’re a fan of possession films and/or like the films mentioned prior, please go check this one out.
2017: Gerald’s Game
Instead of the Flanagan Renaissance that was 2016, 2017 was the return of a Flanagan project a year. This time, Flanagan was taking one of the larger challenges of a horror creator: a Stephen King adaptation. This film managed to secure a partnership between Flanagan and King, as King had nothing but amazing things to say about it. You can read more on King’s reaction in his interview with Vulture here: Stephen King on Movies Gerald’s Game, 1922, It, The Stand. Flanagan passes the adaptation test with flying colors with Gerald’s Game.
A flame is flickering out between a couple in Gerald’s Game. What would be a spicy night with S&M and handcuffs to relight the flame turns sinister when Gerald suddenly dies by a heart attack and leaves Jessie strapped to the bedposts–in actual handcuffs. A chain of events play out as Jessie fights for her life and comes to terms with her situation. Known for its infamous “degloving” scene, this film is not for the lighthearted. However, it is an adaptation that soars beyond the original text, which will be another skill that Flanagan pockets and portrays in his next works.
2018: The Haunting of Hill House
This thus far is Flanagan’s magnum opus. The writing and outstanding interpretation of Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House contains some of the most memorable moments of horror in the 21st century. Flanagan is known for injecting strong emotions into his writing. However, the way that Flanagan balances the line of supernatural and mental illness like he did in Oculus is even more refined. He truly highlights family dysfunction, substance abuse, and other troubling topics whilst telling an incredible ghost story.
There is also a deep attachment to each of the characters, in particular Nell and Luke, the twins targeted by the house. The use of flashback enriches the story even more and the visuals are both effortlessly beautiful and truly haunting. There is also a rewatchability factor due to its rich story and easter eggs throughout. Overall, The Haunting of Hill House was and still is a breath of fresh air in the ghost story genre. It is one of the greatest horror series of all time. It also is the theme of one of the haunts at Universal’s Halloween Horror Nights this year, providing scares outside of the screen.
2019: Doctor Sleep
Hello again, Stephen King. Flanagan took on a drastic challenge with Doctor Sleep. Without stepping on any toes, he managed to marry King’s novel to Stanley Kubrick’s loose adaptation of The Shining. He did it, and with drastic effort too. For a day of filming, Flanagan rebuilt the entire set of the Overlook from the 1980 film based on his several viewings of the film. The Shining is his favorite film, if you couldn’t tell. If you’re wondering how they did such a feat, check out this article here from No Film School: How the ‘Doctor Sleep’ Crew Rebuilt Kubrick’s Overlook Hotel.
This film ended up being a beautiful blend of the two works. It features phenomenal acting from Ewan McGregor, Rebecca Ferguson and Henry Thomas–who does a brilliant Jack Nicholson impression. The story follows Danny Torrance a long time after the events of The Shining, as his powers gets him in contact with a young girl who also has the ‘shine’ by the name of Abra. She is in danger due to a sinister cult known as the True Knot, sucking the ‘shine’ out of young children and murdering them. Events unfold that require him to go back to the place it all began. It is very much worth it to watch the director’s cut of this film, as all three hours are entertaining, suspenseful and invigorating.
2020: The Haunting of Bly Manor
2020 was a rough year as we all know. Mike Flanagan just had to go and break our hearts even more on top of it. While The Haunting of Bly Manor is a horror series, it focuses primarily on the relationships in the series, especially between Dani and Jamie. It’s a love story and a ghost story tied together, which has amazing characters you care for, but instead of it working out for most like The Haunting of Hill House, it hardy works out for anyone. This is another loose adaptation, but this time it is a novella of Henry James’ The Turn of the Screw.
Dani goes to get a new start by nannying two children on an English estate. Things start getting weird when the children start acting out–more like act not themselves–and what is unlocked is the estate’s grim but lavish backstory, which is starkly intertwined with current events. While Flanagan has almost a completely new cast with a few repeat actors, the acting is once again outstanding. They carry the story effortlessly to its extremely tragic ending. Bring tissues for that last episode.
2021: Midnight Mass
Midnight Mass was as good–if not better–than I expected. It is a masterpiece honestly. Full of brilliant monologues that act as sermons and fascinating visuals that heighten the melancholy that seeps into this horror drama. I also have to mention that Neil Diamond heavy soundtrack. Overall, it was a fantastic “vampire” drama that focused on the trauma, trials and tribulations of the small Crockett Island. Not to mention the copious amount of performance snubs this award season, particularly from Hamish Linklater and Kate Siegel.
Like I mentioned with Bly Manor, make sure you have some tissues. I caught myself sobbing quite a few times in this one, and that final episode is full of heartbreak and betrayal. This is a heavy series as well, so to those that too struggle with religious trauma or addiction, tread lightly with this series. It is an important watch if you do deal with those things, as there is no hint of glamorization and the personal ties to Flangan himself really send the message of it can and does get better. It just takes time, and it is how you deal with it in the short time we have.
OVERALL, Mike Flanagan is scaling the sides of the horror palace and are a few films away from seizing the throne. I am excited to see what he has coming next with The Midnight Club and The Fall of the House of Usher. Flanagan taking on Poe is in fact a dream come true.