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For the last decade, filmmaker Mike Flanagan has been one of the busiest writer-directors in Hollywood – and not to mention, one of the scariest.
The horror auteur made his feature film directorial debut with Absentia in 2011, and since then, has gone on to create six more films and three Netflix series. Flanagan has been revered by audiences and critics alike, and has even received praise from the likes of Quentin Tarantino and the master of modern horror himself, Stephen King.
Flanagan has consistently proven himself to be one of the finest horror filmmakers in the genre, and one that can scare you in a multiple amount of ways. Whether it’s the 90-minute anxiety attack of Hush, the terrifying psycho-sexual breakdown of Gerald’s Game, or the chilling episodic slow burn of Midnight Mass, Flanagan always manages to frighten his audience in a deeply disturbing yet effective way. As we wait for his two new Netflix series, The Midnight Club and The Fall of the House of Usher, with the former slated to release this year, we’re going to rank all ten of Flanagan’s works.
But beware – you might want to watch all of these with the lights on (and preferably during the daytime).
10. BEFORE I WAKE (2016)
Flanagan’s fourth movie – which was filmed in 2013, released on a small scale in 2016, and finally released on Netflix in 2018 – takes two classic horror movie tropes (possessed kids and nightmares) and creates a fresh, frightening tale. Before I Wake tells the story of Cody Morgan (Jacob Tremblay), a troubled eight-year-old boy whose dreams actually happen in real life. Cody is adopted by a set of foster parents, Jessie and Mark (Kate Bosworth and Thomas Jane, respectively), who notice Cody’s strange power and the horror that his nightmares start to inflict on those around him.
Cody is haunted by “The Canker Man,” a tall and slender mummy-like figure that, if you’ve seen the movie, can definitely agree only belongs in nightmares. While the movie’s ending veers a little too predictable (and happy), overall, this is still a strong entry in the Flanagan canon.
9. OCULUS (2014)
Imagine a movie about the Mirror of Erised from Harry Potter, but instead of it showing you as Captain of the Quidditch team, it straight up tries to kill you and your entire family.
Oculus is Flanagan’s second feature film and if you can’t already guess based on the opening sentence of this blurb, it’s a horrifying movie. Kaylie (Karen Gillian, who plays Nebula in Guardians of the Galaxy) and Tim (Brenton Thwaites) are siblings who lost their parents to an evil mirror that they had in their house when they were children. Now adults, the sister-brother duo are trying to destroy the haunted household object and stop it in its murderous tracks. While mirrors have certainly been used as the crux of horror movies before (Candyman, Mirrors, The Boogeyman), Flanagan yet again provides us with a fresh and equally unsettling take on the sub-genre.
8. OUIJA: ORIGIN OF EVIL (2016)
Oh, yes — Ouija: Origin of Evil is scary. And, no, you should not watch it alone with the lights off past 7 PM.
Flanagan’s fifth cinematic effort serves as a prequel to Ouija (2014), and in all honesty, surpasses its source material in every way imaginable. Set in 1967 Los Angeles, the movie follows the supernatural exploits of Alice (Elizabeth Reaser), an unsuccessful spirit medium, and her daughters — Lina (Annalise Basso) and Doris (Lulu Wilson) — as they purchase a Ouija board and begin to notice strange habits out of Doris. Soon, they realize that Doris is possessed by an evil spirit and the entire movie goes haywire after that. While we’ve seen the “little girl possessed by a sinister force” story before, Flanagan manages to keep us on our toes with some well-timed twists and a final thirty minutes that rival any ghost movie. You might want to put away the Ouija board after this one.
7. ABSENTIA (2011)
Flanagan’s debut picture set the stage for his warped canon that was to come. An indie-level release that was made with merely $70,000 is just as bone-chilling as any major studio release with a multi-million dollar budget. Absentia tells the story of Tricia (Courtney Bell), a woman who begins seeing her deceased husband again after declaring him dead in absentia. Along with her friend, Callie (Katie Parker), the two are haunted by Daniel and other sinister spirits who come from a particularly malicious tunnel in their town.
Absentia showed the world what Mike Flanagan was capable of creating with limited resources, and even though his expanded world of movies and series have caused many a sleepless night over the past decade, we’re happy he has a bigger budget now (although we’re pretty sure he could make a movie shot on an iPhone with a $10 budget look terrifying, too).
6. THE HAUNTING OF BLY MANOR (2020)
The spiritual successor to Flanagan’s first Netflix series, The Haunting of Hill House (more on that later), The Haunting of Bly Manor had big shoes to fill from the start. While the series can sometimes feel drawn out, particularly with the extensive use of flashback, Bly Manor is nonetheless another wonderfully scary (and emotionally compelling) addition to Flanagan’s resumé.
Based on Henry James’ creepy classic The Turn of the Screw (1898), the series opts for a more updated setting – 1987 London – that’s just as frightening as turn-of-the-century England. A young au pair, Dani (Victoria Pedretti), begins to look after the two children of a wealthy English family in their manor. The children start to exhibit strange, paranormal behavior while Dani struggles to unpack the trauma of her past. It’s an unnerving ride through London that will leave you clamoring for the next episode.
5. GERALD’S GAME (2017)
*Trigger Warning: This section discusses sexual abuse.*
The first of Flanagan’s Stephen King adaptations, Gerald’s Game is not an easy watch. Jessie (Carla Gugino) and her husband, Gerald (Bruce Greenwood), go away for a lovers’ weekend in a secluded house in the middle of the woods. To spice things up in the bedroom, Gerald handcuffs Jessie to the bed and soon after dies of a heart attack – leaving Jessie stranded. What follows is an exploration into Jessie’s deeply troubled psyche, from her problematic relationship with Gerald to the sexual abuse she suffered at the hands of her own father as a young girl.
Flanagan mixes reality and hallucinations so that we never really know what is real and what is not; he creates an entire world of horror in one bare-walled bedroom. Gerald’s Game is not for the faint of heart as Flanagan delivers one of the greatest and most complete Stephen King adaptations ever.
4. HUSH (2016)
Hush is an 81-minute crash course on how to create a thrilling slasher movie using essentially two actors, one set, and virtually no dialogue.
Starring and co-written by Flanagan’s longtime collaborator and wife, Kate Siegel, Hush is about a deaf-mute writer named Maddie (Siegel) who is being stalked by a psychotic serial killer outside her property (John Gallagher Jr.). Flanagan concocts a game of cat and mouse between Maddie and “The Man” that will not only have you anxiously watching the shadows in every frame, but will also probably have you checking your doors and windows to make sure they’re all locked.
The way Flanagan creates so much tension and anxiety without any dialogue is truly a marvel and yet again showcases his ability to transform small-scale settings into big-time screams. Hush is as nerve-wracking as any slasher film out there.
3. THE HAUNTING OF HILL HOUSE (2018)
Flanagan’s first series for Netflix was a rousing success. Loosely based on Shirley Jackson’s 1959 novel of the same name, The Haunting of Hill House is a ten-episode look into the Crain family and their relationship to the paranormal Hill House that they once occupied. Alternating between two different timelines – one with the family living at Hill House and one 26 years later with the siblings now grown up – the story is a terrorizing look into how one house has ripped apart a family. Stephen King tweeted of the series, “I don’t usually care for this kind of revisionism, but this is great. Close to a work of genius, really. I think Shirley Jackson would approve, but who knows for sure.” I mean, if that’s not enough to get you to watch it, then I don’t know what is.
2. DOCTOR SLEEP (2019)
Not only is Doctor Sleep an adaptation of Stephen King’s sequel to The Shining, but it also serves as a cinematic sequel to Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining (1980), one of the most iconic horror movies ever made. No pressure, Mike. Doctor Sleep is Flanagan’s most fully-formed movie; it’s part classic ghost story, part supernatural mystery, and, of course, because it involves the Overlook Hotel, it’s also part blood-hungry thriller.
Ewan McGregor plays the older version of Danny Torrance with a subtle intensity, while newcomer Kyliegh Curran as the young Abra – who, like Danny himself, also possesses “the shining” – gives a standout performance. It’s not easy to live up to standards set by King and Kubrick, but Flanagan somehow manages to do so in this sprawling epic of a horror tale. For a movie that had a lot of pressure riding on it, Doctor Sleep fully delivers.
1. MIDNIGHT MASS (2021)
Midnight Mass, Flanagan’s latest Netflix series about a mysterious priest who comes to a remote island, is his best work. It’s a meditation on grief, recovery, and faith – not to mention, it’s also terrifying.
Hamish Linklater plays Father Paul Hill, an enigmatic yet strange priest who arrives in the close-knit community of Crockett Island. Soon after his appearance, miracles begin to happen – and just as quickly after that, tragedies of biblical proportions. Flanagan uses seven episodes to create an entire world of townspeople and their history, and masterfully builds the suspense until the series’ fantastic penultimate installment. From the excellent ensemble cast to the chilling script, Midnight Mass is Flanagan at his very best. Can The Fall of the House of Usher come out any sooner?