Mike Flanagan is a masterful storyteller.
I can proudly say that I have seen all of his creations. There is a common theme in all of his work: he dives deep down into his characters’ souls and shines the light on something we have (unfortunately) all felt before: grief. Does it have to be something that paralyzes us? Changes us? Makes us monsters, even? Let’s take a look at all the possible answers through Mike’s unique works.
The first movie that caught my attention was the amazing Hush (2016), written by him and Kate Siegel. Kate has also acted in almost everything Mike makes and is an excellent yet underappreciated actress.
I found Hush during those “There’s nothing to watch on Netflix” nights. It popped up, and I was like: “Why not?” Best decision ever. I loved this movie so much that I have rewatched it at least 20 times. Kate Siegel plays Maddie, a deaf and mute writer who retreated into the woods to live a solitary life. Things are fine until a masked killer shows up one night, and she has to fight for her life in complete silence. Any home invasion movie is scary if you ask me. Just the thought of strangers trying to break into your house to rob you and possibly kill you gives me goosebumps. If you add into the mix that you have any kind of disability…it's an absolute nightmare.
Flanagan and Siegel were able to turn this up to the maximum level. I loved the scenes where we were put into Maddie’s shoes. Every sound was taken away, and, of course, we could see the threat that Maddie couldn’t. It was incredibly anxiety-inducing because we couldn’t do or say anything. It was masterful filmmaking, making us wait to see when Maddie will notice or how she will fight for her life when two of the most precious senses are taken away from her. I highly recommend watching this movie; it should still be available on Netflix or Amazon.
After Hush, I did what I always do: researched the filmmaker's work and indulged in more. That’s how I found Oculus (2013). This was another movie that became a favorite instantly. Karen Gillan’s character Kaylie in Oculus is convinced that an antique mirror is responsible for the death and misfortune that her family suffered. She is consumed by grief. She became obsessed, full of vengeance and pain, which led her to believe that she would be able to outsmart a supernatural being. I started to see a fascinating pattern with Flanagan almost immediately: he masterfully shines the light on our inner demons that can consume us and are way scarier than his films’ actual monsters. I would even say that the monsters, demons, or ghosts are the physical forms of these fears and struggles.
Grief is a theme that appears consistently in Flanagan’s filmography.
When writing for his films, Mike Flanagan often partners with Jeff Howard. Out of everything he does, I think the dialogues are my favorite. They are well thought out and often very thought-provoking (especially true in Midnight Mass, you can read my article about it here). I love that he doesn’t shy away from topics. The things his characters often say have such an incredible depth that it makes you ponder things long after the credits roll.
“And I felt nothing. Just nothing. And it spread, it spread everywhere in me, this nothing until I couldn’t feel anything anymore.” - The Haunting of Hill House.
After the absolute obsession with Flanagan’s work that Hush and Oculus gave me, I needed more.
Before I Wake might not be on top of my list as far as his works are concerned, but it still delivered that familiar Flanagan flavor that’s worth your time. With Kate Bosworth, Thomas Jane, and Jacob Tremblay in the lead roles. This one is also all about grief and the loss of a loved one, with the twist of Cody’s (Tremblay) dreams and nightmares manifesting physically. Creating fear (and, of course, conversation) around the act of letting go and why it is so important to do so. While this might not be Flanagan’s strongest movie on the topic, it still gives the audience plenty to think about.
Not surprisingly, Flanagan adapted not one but two Stephen King novels to our screens. Gerald’s Game landed on Netflix back in 2017 with Carla Gugino in the lead, while Doctor Sleep (the follow-up to The Shining) arrived in cinemas in 2019. Both incredibly well-crafted and well-acted movies deal in some sense with Flanagan’s favorite topic, so I wasn’t surprised at all by his choice to adapt them. Here’s the thing. Adapting a book of any kind successfully is still and always will be a difficult job. As a King fan, I am always a bit afraid of how different creators will treat his stories. Flanagan didn’t disappoint with either of them. Gerald’s Game’s dark tone is well balanced out with the self-reflection elements of Carla Gugino’s character. Doctor Sleep got it right by not wanting to repeat what Kubrick’s Shining was, bringing in even more of the magical elements and what’s the true meaning behind it. Ewan McGregor’s performance is spot on in every aspect.
Mike Flanagan’s true recognition came with The Haunting of Hill House, which turned out to be a truly refreshing experience after seeing so many haunted house films with the same scares and almost identical stories. Flanagan managed to dive in deep and awaken even greater fears, like being alone or not being understood by those who matter the most to us. I don’t think I have to write down that it also dealt with grief to great lengths. The second series in this anthology was The Haunting of Bly Manor. Although it wasn’t as impactful as its predecessor, it definitely had a different kind of magic around it.
The casting regarding both shows was top notch basically immaculate.
First, The Fall Of The House of Usher will be inspired and based on multiple works by Edgar Allen Poe. A poet and writer, Poe (one of my favorites) is often known for talking about death, darkness, madness, and isolation. The cast includes Rahul Kohli, Mark Hamill (when I saw his name, I nearly fainted), Frank Langella, Carla Gugino, Samantha Sloyan, T’Nia Miller, Kate Siegel, Zach Gilford, and many more amazing people.
Also in the works, The Haunting of Skeleton Town will include many returning faces from the Haunting anthology (I think we can call it that at this point).
Also coming up, The Midnight Club will welcome Zach Gilford and Samantha Sloyan back while also introducing new faces that seem to be on Flanagan’s go-to list, like Aya Furukawa, who will also appear in The Fall of The House of Usher.
Will you be watching more of Mike Flanagan’s creations? Which of his new projects are you most looking forward to? One thing is for sure; fans will be very well fed during 2022.