From Oculus to The Haunting of Hill House, Mike Flanagan’s brilliance is second to none
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From Oculus to The Haunting of Hill House, Mike Flanagan’s brilliance is second to none
Shreya Paul
Oct 09, 2021

Mike Flanagan’s meteoric rise as the proverbial ‘father of horror’ in just about a decade proves his prowess at conjuring spine-chilling narratives that threaten to alter the way people consumed horror till even the beginning of the millennium.

Flanagan’s debut feature Absentia (2011) had to be crowdfunded for it to reach its audience. Ever since, the filmmaker has been touted as one who breathes horror. His keen sense of human psychology enabled him to create stories that spoke to viewers at a subconscious level. The fear that he evoked, was of the self, which was always scarier than any external agent. The filmmaker is now on a spree of collaborating with Netflix on several projects, the recent-most being a retelling of Edgar Allan Poe’s works, titled The Fall of the House of Usher (also, the name of Poe’s short story).

Even though Flanagan’s brand of horror is above many in his genre, here’s an attempt at listing a few that surpassed all possible expectations.

6OTTplay Rating
Flanagan’s debut film spoke of a pregnant woman (Courtney Bell) who grapples with the absence of her husband (Morgan Peter Brown). But the film was also about the many creatures that hover surreptitiously in our daily lives and kidnap humans with dark motives. The film was crowdfunded via Kickstarter campaign as Flanagan and co. could not get enough funds for the film to roll out. On its release, audiences were awestruck by Flanagan’s use of simple tropes that ensured the film was a classic hit. Flanagan achieved it through a human angle once again. He convinced his audiences that horror is essentially a state of extreme vulnerability.
Gerald's Game
6.9OTTplay Rating
Stephen King’s vision came to life with Mike Flanagan’s adaptation of the book. The story revolved around a woman hand-cuffed by her husband moments before he has a heart attack. With hardly anyone in sight to hear her cries of help, she descends into a dark place where she reminisces her life full of abusive men (both her husband and father). Flanagan plays out her inner monologues with such precision that it is both thrilling and gut-wrenching. Her inner thoughts come to the fore and play out in front of viewers, to the extent that they literally accompany her in her mental freefall into an abyss. The film’s ending though, was largely debated upon, as many felt it was a poor rework on an already-disliked denouement.
7OTTplay Rating
Only his second feature, Flanagan pulled out the big guns with this one. One of the most sophisticated horror movies in the history of the genre, Flanagan’s decision to turn his student short film into a full-blown feature was a treat for the audiences. The concept of reality and illusion was at the crux of Flanagan’s experiments in the film. Since the source of evil (in the mirror) could never directly harm its victims, it chose to play with their perceptions of reality. As the story progresses, it becomes clear that the people trying to combat the ominous presence will always face abject failure. The paralysis that Flanagan managed to achieve with Oculus was seconded by very few films in the horror/psychological thriller space. The filmmaker managed to leave an indelible mark with this film.
The Haunting of Hill House
8.8OTTplay Rating
Arguably his best work, Flanagan’s tryst with Netflix produced the first-ever horror series that had the world gushing over its excellence. From plot, character development to dialogues, every aspect of the series was pitch-perfect. Much like Oculus, Haunting left much to the audience’s imagination. Each episode in the limited series was developed for a purpose, which contributed to the grander narrative. Flanagan thrust his creative energies into the series format and brilliantly elaborated to his fan base that horror is merely a lack of love, lack of companionship and an acute sense of feeling isolated. The series was such an (expected) success, that the streaming platform ordered a second series titled The Haunting of Bly Manor that went into production within the next few years.
Ouija: Origin of Evil
6.1OTTplay Rating
Mike Flanagan’s 2016 attempt at correcting its 2014 predecessor was a hit. The film not only rejigged the initial film’s inconsistent pacing, and shoddy character development, Ouija: Origin of Evil was something that audiences loved and got terrified with at the same time. Flanagan introduced a humane aspect into the film and made the story about how spirits pine for their worldly connections and revert to their need to be on earth. The film was appreciated by critics and audiences alike, most importantly, for its relatable angle, which was something no one expected.
Midnight Mass
2.8OTTplay Rating
Mike Flanagan’s recent-most offering, Midnight Mass, is widely being regarded by critics and fans as one of his best yet. The seven-part series, now streaming on Netflix, centres on a man who returns to his hometown years after his involvement in a drunken-driving incident, that continues to haunt him. Simultaneously, a mysterious priest also makes his entry into the same town. Much like Flanagan’s The Haunting of Hill House, Midnight Mass combines elements of horror with philosophical ruminations on death and grief. It is also a cautionary tale in a post-pandemic world, as evidenced by the show’s allegorical references to the pandemic throughout. Flanagan has revealed Midnight Mass to be his passion project, influenced by his own childhood years spent at the Catholic Church, and his subsequent atheism. The series stars Zach Gilford, Kate Siegel, Hamish Linklater, Samantha Sloyan, Rahul Kohli and Henry Thomas.

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