Mike Flanagan: A New Master of Modern Horror

He may not quite have the same name recognition as John Carpenter, George A. Romero, or Stephen King.  But over the last decade, Mike Flanagan has been quietly rising to the top with hit after hit up until he directed the highly anticipated sequel to The Shining, Doctor Sleep, which gained both critical acclaim and financial success.  So we thought it would be fun to take a look back at his career and see why all of his movies were so well received.

He Cares A Great Deal About Characters
Much like a novelist, Flanagan focuses a lot on his characters’ backstories, even making their flashbacks almost their own subplot in the movie.  He goes out of his way to ensure that his characters are three dimensional and relatable.

Thus, it makes it all the more compelling and frightening when we see terrible things happen to them, because we feel like we’ve gotten to know them.  This is best seen on display with his Netflix miniseries, The Haunting of Hill House.  The Crain family had just as many demons as that cursed mansion did and in many ways they were even scarier.

Given that it was miniseries rather than a movie, it gave Flanagan even more time to develop the characters.

Hopefully we’ll see the same from the upcoming spinoff miniseries, The Haunting of Bly Manor.  Stephen King has always said that he doesn’t necessarily consider himself a horror writer, rather just a writer.  His focus is the write strong characters and then the horror comes later.  Flanagan also takes this approach, so it’s no surprise that he was able to create not one, but two very accurate and well-made King adaptations with Gerald’s Game and Doctor Sleep.

He Knows How to Mess with the Audience’s Heads
Oculus could have very easily have been filled with shallow jump scares and nothing else too it.  Ouija: Origin of Evil was a prequel to a movie that was filled with those, along with every horror cliché in the book.

However, in both cases Flanagan surpassed expectations by not trying to scare his audience by startling but, but by getting into their minds.  In both films (along with several of his others), the characters begin to question their own sanity and whether what they’re experiencing is real or not.

We the audience then follow suit.  Up until the very last moment of Oculus, we’re never quite sure if the mirror really is cursed or if this is all just a shared delusion caused by the tragic of death of their mother when they were children.

Even its ending has been debated over what really happened.

When you get your audience with a jump scare, the effect only lasts for a split second.  But when you screw with their sense of reality, it stays with them, long after the movie is over.

He Prefers Substance Over Style
For a lot of directors, it’s very easy to get lost in their own signature style, especially after they’ve gained critical acclaim.  We saw the whole world praise M. Night Shyamalan with The Sixth Sense, which led to him constantly trying to outdo his twist ending with each new movie, resulting in the ridiculousness that was The Village.

We also saw something similar with Tim Burton where he gained great success with putting Johnny Deep in pale makeup and having him play quirky British characters, but by Dark Shadows in 2012, it had almost become a parody of itself.  Unlike Burton, you can’t really recognize a Flanagan film just by looking at a single frame of it, but that’s not necessarily a negative quality.

It also allowed him to branch out into dark fantasy with Before I Wake, which has some pretty disturbing ideas in it!

Rather, you can best recognize a Flanagan film by how he develops his characters (flashbacks to childhood trauma), and how he toys with perception (making his characters and audience question what’s real).

It’s the reason why he’s able to effectively pull off multiple subgenres like supernatural mystery (Oculus, Ouija: Origin of Evil), haunted house (Haunting of Hill House/Bly Manor), and even home invasion slasher (Hush).  For him, his style is his substance.  So this ensures that he’ll always put great care into crafting stories with a strong foundation of character development and story structure.

His latest work, The Haunting of Bly Manor premieres on Netflix on October 9, 2020!

What’s your favorite Mike Flanagan movie?  Do you think he has the potential to be a master of horror (if he isn’t one already)?  Let us know in the comments!

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