Saturday, April 24, 2021

Mike Flanagan Movies

It's been a while since I've blogged, hasn't it? I'll readily admit that the pandemic got the better of me (and still is some days), and I'm just now getting back into the groove of writing and writing-adjacent tasks. Bear with me! I've got some story releases later this year as well as fun podcasts and blog posts planned.

If you listen to my podcast (Positively Pop Culture) or know me in real life, you probably know that I've recently gotten more into horror films. I've always been okay with psychological thrillers, but I shy away from straight-up horror movies because I'm a big ol' baby. But last October, my roommate, who is very into the genre, encouraged me to watch more. Turns out I really like Mike Flanagan's films because they tend to balance the horrific with the emotional. He usually both writes and directs, so I feel like he's more tuned-in to the storytelling aspect than some other directors. I especially like that he focuses on characters and their relationships with one another.

Since I finished watching his back catalogue this week, I thought it would be a good time to do some blogging so I can reflect on what I liked about each film and give my tentative ranking of them. I'm not including The Haunting anthology because that's a whole different animal. Here we go! (In order from least favorite to most favorite)

Oculus movie posterFirst up is Oculus (2013). This is one of the ones I watched this past week. After being convicted of murder, Tim (Brenton Thwaites) is released from a psychiatric hospital on his 21st birthday. As he tries to get his life back together, his sister, Kailey (Karen Gillan), reopens old wounds by trying to prove that the murder for which Tim was convicted was actually committed by a supernatural phenomenon. This movie is scary and gory at times (a little too gory for me in certain places), but I didn't love the characters, and ultimately, the ending is too bleak for me to make the whole journey worthwhile. Interestingly, even though Mike Flanagan tends to work with actors multiple times, in this film, the only one of the main cast who appears in another work of his is Annalise Basso, who plays Young Kailey and later appears in Ouija: Origin of Evil.

Ouija: Origin of Evil (2016)

This is a prequel to the 2014 film Ouija, which I haven't seen! But it stands alone well. Alice (Elizabeth Reaser), a widowed mother with two daughters, Lina (Annalise Basso) and Doris (Lulu Wilson), runs scam seances as a living. When, at her daughters' urging, she adds a ouija board to the scam, she accidentally invites an evil presence into their home. This has got some cool '60s vibes and features the affable Henry Thomas as Father Tom. Not my favorite because I get creeped out when characters mess with ouija boards and, again, not a lot of catharsis in the ending (which is understandable given that it's a prequel). Reaser and Thomas later appear in Flanagan's 2018 adaptation of The Haunting of Hill House (which is excellent. Highly recommend).

Before I Wake (2016)

Married couple Jessie (Kate Bosworth) and Mark (Thomas Jane) lost their young son in an accident. Finally ready to move on, they adopt an 8-year-old boy named Cody (Jacob Tremblay), whose dreams--and nightmares--manifest in the real world. I wasn't sure how to feel about this one at first! It's a little slow, and the Canker Man in Cody's nightmares is terrifying, but it's a story about grief and coping, and my favorite horror is the horror that tackles big emotions like that.

Absentia (2011)

My most recent Flanagan film! This low-budget film was Kickstarted and is pretty great. It's sort of inspired by the fairy tale Three Billy Goats Gruff and centers on Callie (Katie Parker) who comes to LA to visit her sister, Tricia (Courtney Bell), just as Tricia is getting ready to declare her missing husband, Daniel, dead in absentia. Callie's drawn to a tunnel nearby Tricia's house, and she starts to believe that Daniel's disappearance wasn't exactly natural. Katie Parker, who later appears in The Haunting anthology, is the centerpiece of this film, and she does a fantastic job in making the rough-around-the-edges Callie sympathetic and relatable. Also, veteran character actor Doug Jones makes an appearance!

Gerald's Game (2017)

This one's based on the Stephen King novel by the same name (which I listened to on audiobook). It follows Jessie (Carla Gugino) and Gerald (Bruce Greenwood), who take a trip to their remote lake house to spice up their love life. Except Gerald dies of an unexpected heart attack, and Jessie is left handcuffed to the bed with the key in the other room. This was the first Flanagan film I watched after The Haunting anthology because (a) a friend recommended it and (b) I really like Carla Gugino. It didn't disappoint! This movie is tense and claustrophobic, and Flanagan and Gugino translate the book into what is essentially a one-woman movie very well. Henry Thomas and Kate Siegel (both from The Haunting anthology and other Flanagan projects) also appear.

Doctor Sleep (2019)

Another Stephen King adaptation, this is a sequel to The Shining. Ewan McGregor plays a grown-up Dan Torrance, Rebecca Ferguson plays villainness Rose the Hat (which is a fantastic name), and newcomer Kyliegh Curran plays Abra Stone, who is amazing. Together, Dan and Abra must stop Rose the Hat and The True Knot, a group of quasi immortals who live off the "steam" that children with the "shining" produce when they are slowly tortured to death. This movie is thoughtful and lovingly made. Personally, I enjoy it much more than The Shining because the characters are more sympathetic and I think the story has much more heart. I really adored the uncle-niece relationship between Dan and Abra.

Hush (2016)

This! movie! is! terrifying! And yet I've watched it twice, which proves how much I liked it. It focuses on Maddie (Kate Siegel), a writer who is deaf and living in a remote cabin in the woods. She's working on her next book, and I certainly relate to the frustration of trying to decide how a story ends. While she's working, a masked killer appears outside, determined to break in and kill her. This film is really atmospheric. The setting is limited to the house, there are only five people in the whole cast, and there are only fifteen minutes of dialogue. Kate Siegel does an incredible job as Maddie. According to IMDB trivia, Mike Flanagan and Kate Siegel, who are married in real life, came up with the concept for this movie while on a date. Fun dinner conversation!

Diving into Flanagan's film catalogue has been a ton of fun, and I'm eagerly awaiting his upcoming projects, which include Midnight Mass and The Midnight Club. I'd love for him to do another entry in The Haunting anthology, but he's said he has no current plans for that. I'm way more comfortable with the horror genre now, to the point where I'm even toying with writing a horror novel! We'll see how that goes. If you've read to the end of this, thanks for indulging me! Definitely come talk to me about which of these films is your favorite.




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