Chances are, you're already a few episodes into Netflix's "The Haunting of Hill House," a complex, layered, very spooky horror story that the streaming giant is hoping will be the next "Stranger Things."
But even more impressive than the overlapping time lines and abundance of well-drawn characters, is the fact that a single man wrote and directed every episode. That man's name is Mike Flanagan and he's a marvel. Flanagan has been a rising star in horror cinema since he made a name for himself with 2011's shot-inside-his-Glendale-apartment sleeper hit "Absentia" (a movie that, it should be noted, is no longer available for streaming on Netflix and thusly not catalogued here). Working steadily since, he'll finally get his big studio debut in 2020 with the release of "Doctor Sleep," the follow-up (of sorts) to "The Shining."
So in honor of "The Haunting of Hill House," and in anticipation of "Doctor Sleep," we are ranking all of Flanagan's movies (besides "Absentia"). Happy Halloween!
5. ‘Oculus’ (2013)
Flanagan's "haunted mirror" movie saw the filmmaker working with an expanded scope and scale (the movie cost $5 million, cobbled together from a number of disparate entities, including Blumhouse, Relativity and, um, WWE Studios). Based upon a short film Flanagan had made almost a decade earlier, "Oculus" features an inventive structure, with two adults (played by a very charming Karen Gillan and Brenton Thwaites) dealing with the aforementioned accursed mirror, while flashing back to their earlier encounter with the object and what went down. (Flanagan would return to this bifurcated narrative for "The Haunting of Hill House.")
It’s not that "Oculus" is bad, exactly, it's just that it isn't as memorable as some of his other movies. Still, he made a mirror scary, which isn't exactly an easy feat.
4. ‘Ouija: Origin of Evil’ (2016)
It’s a testament to Flanagan’s considerable talent that he made a quickie follow-up to an utterly forgettable horror movie (based on a board game, no less) feel like essential horror cinema.
The prequel, set in 1967 Los Angeles and only tenuously connected to the original film, is rich and fiery. It features a strong central performance by Elizabeth Reaser as a single mother who makes a living as a phony psychic. Of course, everything becomes very terrifyingly real thanks to the introduction of a haunted “spirit board.” Handsomely photographed and filled with a deliberately old school vibe (that title card!), “Ouija: Origin of Evil” is outstanding entertainment from start to finish and quietly advances Flanagan’s often overlooked feminist subtext.
3. ‘Hush’ (2016)
Flanagan’s “secret” project for Blumhouse, “Hush,” premiered at South by Southwest in 2016 and was on Netflix less than a month later. The story of a deaf writer (Kate Siegel, who also co-wrote the movie and is married to Flanagan), who is terrorized by a masked figure (John Gallagher, Jr.) is a single, sustained set piece stretched over a thrilling 81 minutes -- and it is brilliant.
Part of it is that Siegel is such a compelling lead, always sympathetic but never a victim, and part of it is the way that Flanagan understands point-of-view, with an uncanny knack for putting the viewer inside the head of his main character. (All of these skills would come back, in even more full-blooded form, for “Gerald’s Game.”) Plus, with that brief-but-effective runtime, it’s barely longer than an average episode of a pay cable drama series; it’s all killer, no filler.
2. ‘Before I Wake’ (2016)
Waylaid for almost two years due to the disillusion of Relativity Media and the subsequent litigation (Netflix swooped in and saved the day earlier this year), "Before I Wake" is finally out in the world and it is terrific. Less a horror movie than an incredibly spooky Amblin production, it concerns a young orphan (Jacob Tremblay) who moves in with parents who had just lost a son (Kate Bosworth and Thomas Jane). Soon, they realize that the young boy can manifest things while he dreams -- including, it turns out, their dead child.
Things go from intriguingly otherworldly to downright chilling when a dark presence emerges from his nightmares (it's pretty scary). There are a lot of surprising things about "Before I Wake," like how nuanced the performances are and how creepy the creature is, but maybe the most shocking element is how well Flanagan and his co-writer Jeff Howard deal with the psychological implications of the mourning parents. This is a truly great film, which makes the fact that it was nearly lost all the more tragic.
1. 'Gerald's Game' (2017)
With "Gerald's Game," Flanagan accomplished the impossible, turning Stephen King's beloved, but deeply "unfilmable" 1992 novel into a brilliant, totally unforgettable cinematic experience.
In "Game," Carla Gugino plays Jessie, a woman who retreats to her secluded lake house with her somewhat sadistic husband, the titular Gerald (Bruce Greenwood) and, after a sex game gone wrong, winds up handcuffed to the bed without any chance of escape. From there, the movie gets weirder and considerably scarier, as she must contend with a mangy dog, weirdo killer, and her own unglued psyche. Flanagan does a tremendous job putting you inside Jessie's head, as she toggles between the past and the present and all the voices telling her what to do. (Somehow, he even managed to maintain that nifty "Dolores Claiborne" reference.)
"Gerald's Game" was also the home to one of the greatest, bloodiest and most widely dissected (on social media at least) horror movie moments of last year -- the "de-gloving."
If you don't know what that means, just watch the movie. All will be come clear.