I've been a movie enthusiast my whole life and been writing movie reviews for over 14 years.
Mike Flanagan’s newest Netflix horror series Midnight Mass dropped on September 24th, 2021. Since his mass theatrical debut Absentia was released in 2011, Flanagan has made a name for himself as one of the horror’s premiere writer/directors. His films tend to focus on more intimate horrors and character-driven suspense instead of generic jump scares.
This list will rank his seven previous mass releases, as opposed to his minor student films and his other Netflix series The Haunting of Hill House or The Haunting of Bly Manor. The scares during a Flanagan film may not jump out at you right away, but they tend to stay with you longer than you’d expect.
1. Doctor Sleep (2019)
A sequel to The Shining that is better than it has any right to be. Flanagan does the almost impossible; merging Stanley Kubrick’s 1980 seminal horror classic The Shining (which Stephen King reportedly dislikes) with Stephen King’s 2013 novel Doctor Sleep. Flanagan takes the best of the novel and Kubrick’s movie and makes Doctor Sleep into an easy-to-digest amalgamation that should satisfy fans of both stories. Featuring a scene-chewing turn by Rebecca Ferguson as Rose the Hat (who supplies a great deal of the movie’s frights), Doctor Sleep makes the two-and-a-quarter hour run time practically fly by. The three-hour director’s cut is also worth a watch if time isn’t a factor for you. The final act is a gift for Shining fans and a worthy chapter to one of horror’s most celebrated films.
2. Gerald's Game (2017)
Mike Flanagan’s first Stephen King adaptation takes a bottle (a story mostly set in one location) movie and makes it, if not particularly visually stimulating, more suspenseful so that staying in one room isn’t that much of a hindrance. If you’ve read the King novel, most would say it’s practically unfilmable. Flanagan (and co-writer Jeff Howard) makes Gerald’s Game into an acting showcase, and Carla Gugino commands the screen well enough so that you don’t even care you’re mostly in a bedroom. All you care about is Jessie and how she’s going to get out of Gerald’s very unfortunate game. Even King’s problematic ending is handled as well as anyone could. Jessie’s “escape” is one of the more, ahem, vivid scenes of 2017. You wonder how Flanagan got away with it. You’re amazed at how well the movie works. 2017 was great year for King adaptations. Gerald’s Game and It Chapter 1 premiered in September of that year. While It dealt with childhood trauma and killer clowns, Gerald’s Game dealt with trauma of a more realistic nature until the end, but that’s easily forgivable with such a visceral horror movie. Love it or hate it, you won’t forget it.
3. Absentia (2011)
For all intents and purposes, this is Mike Flanagan’s film debut. His student films did get some exposure, but Flanagan has stated himself they weren’t for “public consumption.” It’s not hard to notice the low budget aesthetic of Absentia. For the most part, this works for the movie as its DIY nature aids its sense of realism. The acting is raw at times, but it’s never unbelievable as two sisters believe a strange tunnel is the cause of some disappearances. There are some genuinely unsettling moments in Absentia, and it works just as well as a drama. The ending has an emotional weight that stays with you after the credits end. Best to go into this cold. It's an outstanding debut.
4. Hush (2016)
Mike Flanagan co-wrote Hush with star (and wife) Kate Siegel. Hush is one of those adrenaline rush movies in which you notice the logic flaws about 10 minutes after the credits roll, but while you are watching it you are fully in the moment. Kate Siegel’s performance as Maddie, a deaf writer whose home is invaded by a killer only credited as The Man (a creepy John Gallagher Jr. owning scenes despite an unevenly written part). There are about 15 to 20 minutes of actual dialogue as Maddie Chooses-Your-Own-Adventure her way to escape getting killed in some of the films most harrowing and inventive scenes. Like 2016’s other semi-silent horror movie Don’t Breathe, there are times when you watch the movie in complete silence, taken in with Maddie’s plight. Again, there are times when you have to accept some leaps of logic, but you still have a wonderful white-knuckling time.
5. Ouija Origin of Evil (2016)
Considering that the 2014 original Ouija was a derivative piece of garbage, it’s a genuine shock that Flanagan’s prequel is so effective. Its PG-13 rating isn’t as much of an impediment as you’d expect as there are well-executed scares that are never cheap and are rarely expected. There are jarring visuals in place of gratuitous violence and gore. Flanagan keeps you off guard, knowing the limits of what he can show and what he can’t. It’s a balancing act that Flanagan pulls off better then you’d ever expect considering how the first movie was so forgettable. Henry Thomas’ performance as a priest whose willingness to accept the supernatural is more liberal than you’d expect. He is a more complex character than you’d expect in these types of films. Origin of Evil works better than you’d ever expect considering the movie that came before it.
6. Oculus (2013)
Once again, Flanagan doesn’t rely on gore to keep the audience pinned to their seat. The story of a possibly possessed mirror and the terror it’s wrought over a family for years holds the viewer well enough. Karen Gillan shines as a woman dealing with the demons of her past head on as she tries to exonerate her brother (Brendon Thwaites) of murder. The problem is, Brendon Thwaites is such a vapid performer that all the screen weight belongs to Gillan. You barely believe Thwaites’ Tim is capable of anything more dangerous than stealing CDs from a Tower Records in 1994. And that ending is too poorly set up to be a surprise to anybody whose ever seen a horror movie before. This is not a bad horror movie, but it's too predictable to rise above “okay” levels. The mirror itself is more disquieting than anything you see in the final act.
7. Before I Wake (2016)
An orphaned child’s (Room’s Jacob Tremblay) dreams and nightmares manifest in the real world. Mike Flanagan’s much delayed movie has its moments of effectiveness, but it is ultimately too uneven to recommend wholeheartedly. Young Jacob Tremblay is a compelling lead, but Kate Bosworth’s character is rendered useless in the second half as the film tries to stay afloat. Unfortunately, the film’s first harrowing scene is also its best. It’s almost maddening how much this movie hints at greatness only to settle for something more pedestrian. There are some inspired instances in Before I Wake, but it gets too bogged down in random subplots and stilted pacing to be rendered wholly effective. You wonder what the Flanagan of the present could do with the material now.
Before you binge Midnight Mass and the upcoming Midnight Club on Netflix, make sure you revisit writer/director Mike Flanagan’s previous films. They are intelligent and compelling horror with minimal but appropriate gore. His movies stay with you a while after most horror movies disappear from your memory.
Noel Penaflor (author) from California on September 26, 2021:
Thank you very much! Thanks for reading and sharing your thoughts.
Nisar Sufi from Dubai on September 26, 2021:
Mike Flanagan is one of my favorite directors of all time. Great list! Probably the best movie list I've read this year. I am yet to watch Absentia and Before I Wake but I'll definitely do that soon.
I didn't like Oculus at that match. Its 2nd half was really poor though Gillian carried the film throughout. Twaites has improved since then (he plays Nightwing in Titans).
I am also elated you chose Gerald's Game as second-best as this film is my favorite Stephen King movie adaptation though I haven't read the book. It was a difficult choice for me to choose between Doctor Sleep and Gerald's Game but Flanagan complimented both King and Kubrick though he is not as experienced as both of them so that movie places first in my list as well.
Also, Hush I thought is good time-pass. Its last 20 minutes were laughable but it was much better than Megan Fox's overrated Till Death.
Great list again. Love following your reviews. Will share this article on my social media. :)