The first time Director Mike Flanagan fell into my periphere, was when I watched his 2013 feature film, Oculus (admittedly this had a lot to do with its star Karen Gillan) and was blown away by his vision.
I’ve been a huge fan of his work ever since and watched every one of his movies and tv shows preceding this.
There was however, one glaring omission from this modern auteur’s work that I had neglected and that is the subject of this retrospective… Absentia.
Now celebrating 10 years since its initial release I intended to remedy that error and I’m thankful to say that I wasn’t disappointed.
Despite its minimalist approach due to an admittedly refined budget, Flanagan proves his mastery even at this early stage of his career, weaving in a supernatural tale that chills and mystifies. These traits are all too familiar to Flanagan’s craft and have perfected over time.
Absentia’s tale is a tangled one that lures you into its obscurity and ensnares you, much like its subject; a tunnel or underpass at the end of a typical suburban street.
The conundrum presented could sit perfectly in the canon of Twilight Zone tales, where we are presented with a pregnant woman, Tricia (Courtney Bell) whose husband, Daniel (Morgan Peter Brown), has been missing for seven years. With the period of time that has passed, Tricia can now declare Daniel, dead in absentia and finally out things to rest and potentially settle down with her new partner, Det. Mallory (Dave Levine). She is joined at this time by Daniel’s younger sister, Callie (an excellent Katie Parker), a former drug addict and estranged from her family.
All is not as it seems however, as Tricia begins to have hallucinations of Daniel in her house, and Callie has a strange encounter with a “homeless” man (played by the always sublime Doug Jones) in the afore-mentioned tunnel. These strange events push Callie back into her drug use again, and the paranoia and anxiety rises to the surface, as she’s convinced that someone has broken into the house.
So, when Daniel suddenly returns one day, everything gets flipped upside down and inside out, starts a chain of oddities, leading each of the characters down a path of no return.
For me, Absentia has cemented my admiration of Flanagan’s films. It was a reward to see how his style and creativity began to formulate. And even though it is in its most simplistic form, all the hallmarks of his work are evident. Most importantly, Flanagan is a storyteller, first and foremost. A man who is able to tap into the imagination, creating worlds that are finely incubated, and the fact that he has grown in stature over the years is a testament to his ability in this field.
If like me, Absentia, has missed you by, I highly recommend giving it your time.
It’s been a couple of weeks now since Doctor Sleep hit cinemas and as the steam dissipates I’m left in a bit of a quandary. There seems to be some mixed reviews out there and some pushing into the negative which quite frankly stumped me as I thought it was a well composed and structured movie with plenty of heart and some strong characters for the audience to engage with. So why the backlash?
The answer to this is simple and it’s to do with that giant sized elephant in the room, which is called Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining. Without doubt this film was a masterpiece and helmed by one of the greatest directors ever. His vision was unique and his interpretation of Stephen King’s novel while not appreciated by the originator has been widely received by the horror community. Those who have read King’s novel though will know that it is vastly different from what was initially conceived and plays more like a man with a severe case of cabin fever and the supernatural elements are considerably downplayed. From my perspective I always loved both versions and viewed them as part of a parallel universe, where Kubrick splintered away from the source material and created a movie that looked at the kernel horror that humanity can display.
So when it was announced that Mike Flanagan was to direct a sequel to The Shining, he faced a conundrum. How would he place the film considering that there are two versions to draw inspiration from. It was a tough task, but he decided to amalgamate the two infused with a vision of his own. This was both masterful and his undoing for it would inevitably divide his audience from those devoted to Kubrick’s world and those eager to see new life in the much older Danny Torrance.
It feels to me that audiences have been clouded (by no fault of their own) by Kubrick’s vision and have neglected the source material in King’s novel, Doctor Sleep; a story that embodies the supernatural and belongs more in the sci-fi fantasy world than that of horror. As such, hardcore horror fans will be left wanting, but I believe Flanagan has been incredibly faithful to King’s tale and added a little Kubrick kink to harness these two worlds and the end result is highly engaging and captivating, proving that he is possibly the best craftsmen working in the industry today. Much like King, Flanagan knows how to spin a tale and in doing, allows the characters to really shine in the movie.
If there was one part that jarred with me, it was in the opening few scenes that painted a younger Danny with his mother (Not Shelley Duvall) in order to lay the foundations of how he suppressed his shining and keeps the ‘entities’ of the Overlook Hotel from feeding from his energy by containing them in boxes within his mind. The minor quibble is in that it is clearly different from the actors we connected with the story from Kubrick’s The Shining, but there is no real way around this without CGI technology to capture the original actors in the younger form. As I stated it’s a minor criticism, and its also necessary to set the scene. Once we move away from this we’re introduced to the characters proper – the older, washed out Danny (Ewan McGregor) who try as he might is destined to walk in his fathers’ footsteps and has succumbed to alcoholism. He eventually arrives at a small town in New Hampshire and settles down thanks to a new friend, Billy Freeman (Cliff Curtis) who also becomes his AA sponsor and helps him on his new path of sobriety, but in doing so, his shining becomes stronger.
We’re also introduced to some amazing characters in the True Knot (who deserve a spin off series in their own right) a collection of people who feed off the steam (energy) of those who shine. Possibly the most harrowing component from a viewers perspective is that they tend to hone in on children as their shine is stronger. The scene where they lure Bradley, (a kid who is travelling home from his baseball game) to his demise is particularly striking. Led by Rose The Hat (Rebbeca Ferguson), who is the strongest of the group and the lead antagonist in Danny’s epic and climactic confrontation. Other standouts from the group are Crow Daddy (Zahn McClarnon), who serves as the lead predator and a wise figure in the group, the elder Grandpa Flick (Carel Struycken), and their newest addition Snakebite Annie (Emily Alyn Lind) who has the ability to use hypnosis to lure her victims and deserved much longer screen time.
And finally there’s Abra (Kyleigh Curren), a girl with an incredibly strong shining and when her presence becomes known to the True Knot, she must seek help from Danny, whilst channeling her own powers.
The fact that both King and in return Flanagan pay so much time and dedication in building the background to these characters serves as Doctor Sleep’s masterstroke. We’re allowed to care for all of the characters and in doing so, fall deeper into the narrative and are driven to follow them on their journey to their conclusion.
Flanagan is faced with a difficult task in infusing both King and Kubrick’s Shining worlds to create a highly-entertaining sequel. It is filled with the supernatural and characters that shine beyond the screen, whilst providing an engaging narrative with a more than satisfying conclusion.
There will be the doubters, but for this reviewer, Flanagan has created another little gem that proves that he is a masterful storyteller and possibly the best of our generation. I can’t wait to see which story he generates next as I will definitely be at the front of the queue.
Check out our podcast and further thoughts on Doctor Sleephere:
Hill House may well have been home for the Crain family, but it also holds the key to a life defining memory. Flashing back and forth between past and present, this haunted house yarn is about the psychological effects of events that lead to them abruptly fleeing a haunted house in the dead of night many years earlier.
“The Haunting of Hill House” is a genre busting ghost story with more levels than the house at its core. Using the Shirley Jackson novel (previously seen as “The Haunting” – both as the 1963 Robert Wise film and the 1999 Jan De Bont film) as its source material, master of horror Mike Flanagan has meticulously crafted a 10 part horror series for Netflix that is as much a traditional gothic horror as it is a story about how a family handles the traumatic stress of a horrific experience none of us could ever imagine. So essentially this is for anyone who wondered what was next for the Lutz family after “The Amityville Horror” or the Freelings post “Poltergeist”.
This is about the PTSD of horror and while they all have their ghosts to reconcile, these ones are literal.
Now this all may seem extremely heavy stuff, but there is still a good old fashioned ‘scare-ya-silly’ ghost story here and believe me it’s a frightening one too. The frights are drip fed when you least expect it and there’s creepiness resplendent too if you just keep your eyes open from behind that cushion.
But what makes this stand out as quite possibly the best horror of 2018 is the well developed characters, the incredible writing, and the heart (or boob) thumping performances. All of the actors throw their all into the work too and it’s evident in such stand out episodes as; “The Bent necked woman” that has one of the craziest WTF moments in horror history and “Two Storms” which is almost theatre. The almost hour long episode of “Two Storms” plays out over five cuts, as the characters all bounce off each other in long, incredibly choreographed 15-23 min takes.
Mike Flanagan has steadily crafted a brilliant career in horror films since his stellar debut film “Absentia”. Over the years he’s reinvigorated a franchise, with the prequel “Ouija: Origin of Evil”, directed a couple of Netflix exclusive films “Hush”, and the brilliant Stephen King adaptation “Gerald’s Game”, and is soon to direct another King adaptation “Doctor Sleep” (“The Shining” sequel). So it’s really no surprise his latest entry is his best…so far. There’s a familiar look to his work, a colour palette of greys and oranges, and a troop of regular actors that include the always amazing Carla Gugino, the outstanding Elizabeth Reaser, and Flanagan’s wife, Kate Siegel, who has her best role yet. Talking of actors, who knew ET’s Henry Thomas and Timothy Hutton looked so alike, here they play the role of Hugh Crain at various stages in his life and my god the similarity is uncanny.
Look, while this is very loosely based on the Shirley Jackson novel, it’s not a direct adaptation in the slightest, but it still has the locked red door, the spiral staircase, and spooky housekeeper Mrs Dudley. This is a fantastically complex gothic horror story for the Netflix generation.
Gerald’s Game is THE best Stephen King film of 2017.
This may be considered a controversial opinion especially as It had broken box office records across the globe, but it’s one that I’ll stand by.
For avid readers of this website they may have noticed how much of a fan I am of director Mike Flanagan’s work following Absentia, Oculus, and three entries last year with Hush, Ouija: Origin of Evil, and Before I Wake.
His latest entry though (available now on Netflix) has confirmed his place as a master craftsmen in his field.
Another confirmation which if ignored will be criminal is the acting prowess of Carla Gugino who had long been carving out an impressive career and delivers a powerful performance in this Stephen King film adaptation.
Gerald’s Game which was supposedly ‘unfilmable’ tells the story of Jessie and Gerald who are trying to spice up their marriage with a weekend retreat to a lake house, only for things to go awry when Gerald suffers a heart attack leaving Jessie handcuffed to the bed.
She must now use her wits in order to break herself free from her chains but in doing so she must also internally face a Dark past that continues to haunt her.
Gugino delivers such diversity on screen and is ably supported by Bruce Greenwood (Gerald) and Henry Thomas (Jessie’s father) as told in flashbacks.
The audience is guided through Jessie’s plight without it feeling contrived and we flow through each scenario as Jessie goes deeper into her secret ‘well’ in order to gain the strength she needs to pull through.
Flanagan appears to have a deep fascination with the human psyche and once again is able to tap into that inner turmoil and present humanity at its most unstable as a result.
I can’t wait to see what dark recess of the mind that he unearths with his next project.
IN MY HUMBLE OPINION, Before I Wake is by far the best of Mike Flanagan’s 2016 movies.
I could also venture that it’s his best movie so far.
It’s filled with the stuff of imagination that makes one glow after viewing it.
So much magic and heart combined with fear and tragedy that can only be born out of dreams and nightmares.
The credit falls upon Flanagan and co-writer Jeff Howard to bring this spectacle to the screen with such wonder and delight.
Following the story of a couple who look to adopt a child after their own heartbreak and ruin after tragically losing their own son some years prior.
So, as they carry this baggage with them and try to repair, both Jessie and Mark have to face their past when Cody comes under their roof.
But all is not as it seems with Cody.
There is a mystical aura that surrounds him and when he sleeps, something both glorious and sinister occurs.
Again what struck me about Flanagan’s craft as a storyteller is that he is able to show the depth of character with his leads and in doing so, Kate Bosworth’s Jessie shows all her flaws and weaknesses that as a viewer you both empathise and scathed with the same sweeping judgement.
Before I Wake is an emotional journey that reawakens the soul and enriches the senses.
Don’t be turned off by it’s lack of a cinema release as this was purely down to the collapse in finances from Relativity Media.
I’M GOING TO hold my hand up and say that this was the weakest of the 3 Flanagan movies of 2016, but that’s not to lessen its integrity by any stretch as it’s still a damn good movie
If anything it just strengthens Mike Flanagan’s pedigree as a modern horror auteur even further when you combine this with his other 2016 movie releases, Hush, and Before I Wake.
But I digress, back to Ouija: Origin of Evil and why it deserves a lot more recognition than it currently holds.
Firstly, the big elephant in the room which automatically serves as a hindrance in my book, is the bold choice to create a franchise out of what was essentially a flop in its predecessor, Ouija.
When I first heard that Flanagan was attempting to do this I was at first a little flummoxed by that decision, but as a few of my colleagues will testament, I’m a sucker for creativity born out of bold choices and for that measure I was willing to let Flanagan to take me along for the ride.
Secondly, was yet another interesting decision; to take Ouija back to its origins (as the title suggests) and act as a prequel and not a sequel.
In doing so, Flanagan is almost able to wipe the slate clean and throw in a few rules of his own, (some that the original was sadly lacking and give said original a bit more strength to its cause) and generate a new lease of life into what was a dormant vehicle.
A daunting challenge for most but Flanagan would rise to the occasion and allow the tension to be drawn out gradually.
The story itself would follow a family of seance scammers to unwittingly unleash evil, primarily on the youngest daughter and then struggle to fight against damnation in order to win back her soul.
What struck me in particular about this movie was Flanagan’s fascination with the human mind and how it can manipulate, be manipulated and misinterpret various scenarios for good or ill.
It’s an area he has focused on before in Oculus and this movie would allow him to divulge further into this subject as part of his playing field.
So, if like some people you were drawn away from watching this movie as you were let down by the original, I would ask you to reconsider.
This is a movie that highlights a director who is only just starting to pick up his stride and produce some wonderful moments in the horror genre.
And is the reason why he is my recommendation for Director of the Year.
DIRECTOR MIKE FLANAGAN has been slowly making his mark as ‘THE’ director to watch in the horror genre.
Back in 2011, he made his name with Absentia and then followed this up with the underrated Oculus film in 2013.
But it would be in 2016 that he would really show his mettle, hitting the ground running with a home invasion movie, Hush.
Something of a theme in 2016 combined with the success of Don’t Breathe.
What made Hush an interesting vehicle is that it thrust a deaf character as its central protagonist. Not a new concept granted but Flanagan’s direction would steer Maddie in a remote setting removing herself from society, running away from her troubles and from the sound of things a troubled relationship.
By stranding our heroine into isolation, she must resort to her strength and wit in order to survive.
And we’re not talking about the whole scream queen scenario where she runs up the stairs instead of out the front door.
There’s a lot of ingenuity involved in her attempts to escape but ultimately finding herself back in the house with nowhere to run.
Its strength is also derived by its minimal cast, essentially leaving the protagonist and antagonist to share the bulk of screen time, with the exception of a couple of neighbours, it relies on the tension and drama to unfold with genuine realism.
A choice that is rewarding to see both sides struggle to swing the pendulum in their favour
And what’s more the pay off is worth the wait.
If you’ve not caught this movie yet, I highly recommend it.
Hats off to the first in a trio of great movies by what I’m dubbing the Director of the Year.