RANKING: Mike Flanagan’s Horror Filmography

Editor’s Note: This list was originally published in late September 2022, the day that Midnight Mass premiered on Netflix. Here we are, one year later, and Mike Flanagan has since given us yet another original series of the same hour: The Midnight Club.

In light of both these releases—and my own rewatches in the last year—I’m rereleasing this list to account for these changes.

Despite the lingering heat where I am, the air smells cooler, the leaves are crispier, pumpkin reigns supreme, and cars are stuck behind school buses again. Halloween is on the horizon, so for the next few weeks, scary movies will pour into streaming services and horror habits will be socially acceptable, at least until all the (fake) blood washes off.

To celebrate the debut of Mike Flanagan’s latest work, I’m revisiting his director’s filmography from perfect to pitful.

Now let’s rewind.

1. The Haunting of Hill House

The Haunting of Hill House – IMDB.com

Description: Five estranged siblings are reunited by tragedy, forcing them to confront their mixed accounts of what took place during their childhood at the mysterious Hill House property.

Strengths: The first installment of “The Haunting” anthology series is a brilliant reimagining of Shirley Jackson’s novel of the same name. The book and series are deeply unsettling in starkly different ways, but perhaps its most chilling scare is Flanagan’s inclusion of ghostly figures in background shots who are never acknowledged until they’re introduced formally in a subplot. It’s a neat alternative to jump scares and gives fans a reason to rewatch it and play a ghoulish version of “I SPY.”

Weaknesses: The visual scares are paced evenly which does a disservice if viewers are expecting them to heighten later throughout the series. Also, I didn’t like the ending the first time I watched—it felt a little cliché—but I’ve since grown to appreciate it, much like Flanagan’s penchant for incredibly long monologues.

Standout Moment: The entirety of Episode 6, “Two Storms” which jumps the spans of years within a single continuous shot.

Rating: 🔪🔪🔪🔪🔪 (5/5)

Scare Meter: 😱😱

2. Hush

Hush – IMDB.com

Description: A Deaf woman who lives alone in a wooded cabin is tormented by a masked assailant lurking outside.

Strengths: Flanagan loves a strong woman ready to kick some ass, and often, these women are played by his wife (Kate Siegel, but Flanagan’s former partner Courtney Bell also starred in three of his films.) Siegel’s performance as the Deaf Final Girl is powerful, never pitiful, as she creatively navigates a murderous home invasion without any sound. It’s a testament to Flanagan’s range as a writer, too, since he’s known for lengthy monologues and the two starring characters are nearly mute from start to finish.

Weaknesses: As Siegel isn’t a Deaf actor, Deaf viewers have pointed out the inconsistent use of ASL in her portrayal. (Both Siegel and Flanagan have apologized and acknowledged the controversial choice in Siegel’s casting.) And aside from its final girl, Hush doesn’t really bring anything new to the slasher genre.

Standout Moment: Bitch the Cat’s apathy to both death and survival.

Rating: 🔪🔪🔪🔪🔪 (5/5)

Scare Meter: 😱😱😱

3. Midnight Mass

Midnight Mass (2021) – imdb.com

Description: The arrival of a charismatic young priest to a small island community brings both miracles and madness.

Strengths: Flanagan pulled from his own religious trauma and struggle with addiction to lay the foundation for this one and it shows. While the portrayal of Christianity in horror is common, it tends to take a black-and-white approach: you must use God to defeat the Devil, or that the religion itself is evil. Flanagan, instead, draws on both the beauty and horror that coexist in the Bible: pure hearts and irrevocable harm are not mutually exclusive; people will do anything they believe to be in line with their chosen prophet. Whatever your personal relationship with spirituality is, Midnight Mass will likely resonate with you in some dark way.

Weaknesses: Flanagan’s usual ensemble cast gives way to dozens of opened mysteries and not all of the big ones are clearly explained, let alone wrapped up. I still have a lot of questions about what happened before the grand finale.

Standout Moment: Sheriff Hassan’s monologue on being a Muslim police officer (Rahul Kohli is at his strongest in this Flanagan release.)

Rating: 🔪🔪🔪🔪 (4/5)

Scare Meter: 😱😱

4. Absentia

Absentia – IMDB.com

Description: A pregnant woman is visited by her troubled sister as they make arrangements to declare the former’s missing husband dead in absentia. When he makes a sudden reappearance, an investigation leads to an otherworldly tunnel in the neighborhood.

Strengths: Absentia was funded through Kickstarter with a budget of only $70,000—something that works in the film’s favor. The settings are simple and the actors are believable in appearance and dialogue, grounding the fantastically dark storyline in reality. It’s a scruffy, scary deep cut that I wish more people knew about.

Weaknesses: The movie’s ending and ultimate message feel like they may have been stuck in draft mode.

Standout Moment: Have you ever been startled by a centipede in your bathroom? Imagine that, but it’s bigger than you are and here to drag you to a hellish dimension.

Rating: 🔪🔪🔪 (3/5)

Scare Meter: 😱😱😱

5. Doctor Sleep

Doctor Sleep – IMDB.com

Description: As an adult, Danny Torrance is still haunted by his childhood, and the shining powers he possesses only torment him further. He is forced to confront this side of himself when another little girl with the shining is kidnapped by a cult that feeds on children with the same ability.

Strengths: Doctor Sleep isn’t a sequel to just The Shining novel, but Kubrick’s adaption, too. Flanagan did an impeccable job appointing actors who give believable portrayals of the original cast and he didn’t even have to venture outside of his trusted orbit. The film felt more like a fantasy than horror in many respects but the parts that are horror are truly disturbing—especially when it comes to the kids. (It’s a Stephen King story, after all.)

Weaknesses: At two-and-a-half hours, there were multiple instances when I thought the movie was ending, and then suddenly, it didn’t. Flanagan’s director’s cut (roughly half an hour longer) is largely favored by those who saw both, and since I only saw the theatrical release, I wonder how Doctor Sleep would have worked as a miniseries instead. (Alex Essoe as Shelley Duval as Wendy Torrance could have at least gotten an hour-long episode as opposed to five minutes of flashback!)

Standout Moment: Danny’s quite literal confrontation with his childhood trauma in the Overlook

Rating: 🔪🔪🔪 (3/5)

Scare Meter: 😱😱😱

6. The Haunting of Bly Manor

The Haunting of Bly Manor – IMDB.com

Description: An American nanny moves to a large estate in rural England that’s haunted by generations of secrets and devastation.

Strengths: While it’s much less frightening than Hill House, the second season of The Haunting leans deeply into gothic romance, giving it space of its own to exist outside of the haunted house comparison. It’s also fun to watch many of the first season’s actors return with new identities, especially Victoria Pedretti, whose chemistry with the lonely gardener (Amelia Eve), is so consuming that their dynamic has become iconic in the queer community.

Weaknesses: Bly’s ultimate reveal of the structure and rules of its supernatural world are confusing, to say the least. And while Hill House’s origins are sprinkled in each episode of its season, Bly Manor’s backstory is shoehorned in the penultimate episode. It’s not any less remarkable of a story, but the placement sure is.

Standout Moment: When we discover who the Man in the Mirror really is.

Rating: 🔪🔪🔪 (3/5)

Scare Meter: 😱

7. Gerald’s Game

Gerald’s Game – IMDB.com

Description: Looking to spice up their marriage, a middle-aged couple travels to a cabin in the woods for a kinky retreat involving handcuffs. Once the wife is cuffed to the bed, the husband promptly dies of a heart attack, stranding her.

Strengths: This movie is incredibly gruesome without becoming gore for the sake of gore or doing anything for shock value. It’s one of Flanagan’s only works that I haven’t rewatched simply because I was hungover eating pizza bagels when I saw it and the ensuing nausea was enough to make this a one-and-done. And while the lead character’s situation is scary on its own, it gets much worse when you throw in a front door left ajar, a hungry dog, and a maybe-real or maybe-nightmare serial killer played by Carel Struycken, AKA the Giant in Twin Peaks.

Weaknesses: The movie could have ended a couple of scenes earlier than it did, freeing itself of a bulky epilogue that’s mostly one long voiceover.

Rating: 🔪🔪🔪 (3/5)

Scare Meter: 😱😱😱

8. The Midnight Club

The Midnight Club (2022) – imdb.com

Description: Eight terminally ill young adults live together at a hospice telling each other scary stories to process the loose ends of their short lives; they soon become tangled in a mystery surrounding the origin of their institution.

Strengths: The adaption is a complicated collage of the works of Christopher Pike, including his novel of the same name and twenty-seven of his other books. It works well and offers plenty of subject matter, which Flanagan says will come into play if Netflix renews the series for a second season. The characters are all just as flawed as they are loveable, each fitted with a gripping backstory that is merely hinted at as they all tell a “fictional” story by the firelight.

Weaknesses: The show repeatedly implies a supernatural presence is at work, often pitting magic against science, only to solve none of those mysteries. Very few questions are answered and though Flanagan promises to provide resolutions over Twitter if Netflix cancels the show, the final moments of the last episode were enough of a letdown to lose my interest. (But obviously, I’m obviously going to watch the next season if there is one.)

Standout Moment: The “jump scare” sequence. The very first episode earned Flanagan a spot in the Guinness Book of World Records for a startling twenty-one jump scares in the pilot episode alone (the majority of which take place in a single scene). It was a deliberate move to make fun of the trope (which it does well) and it seems to foreshadow one of the show’s grand takeaways: that some stories are only as scary as the way we tell them.

Rating: 🔪🔪 (2/5)

Scare Meter: 😱

9. Oculus

Oculus – IMDB.com

Description: A brother and sister reunite after their parents’ death when they were children to confront and defeat the malevolent object that the sister deems responsible—a haunted, antique mirror.

Strengths: Mirrors manage to be creepy regardless of what kind of film they appear in, but this kicks it up one hundred notches, and I praise Flanagan for not utilizing jump scare after jump scare with such an object that invites them. This film also marks where Flanagan revealed the frightening things he can do with eyes, a skill he mastered in subsequent projects.

Weaknesses: The mirror is able to severely disorient the characters and their perceptions of time and reality, but alas, it does the same thing to the audience. It’s a confusing ride and—without spoiling anything—the ending was a grave disappointment.

Standout Moment: When Kaylie presents her brother with her intricate digital setup to help them ultimately destroy the mirror.

Rating: 🔪🔪 (2/5)

Scare Meter: 😱😱😱

10. Before I Wake

Before I Wake – IMDB.com

Description: After the death of their young son, a couple fosters a little boy who’s terrified of going to sleep. They soon discover that boy’s dreams—and nightmares—manifest physically in their home.

Strengths: There’s a level of fantasy imbued in much of Flanagan’s work, and Before I Wake afforded him the opportunity to create dreamscapes inside and outside of the child’s head. Even when it’s creepy, there’s still a high level of beauty.

Weaknesses: The pacing reminds me of something John Green wrote in The Fault in Our Stars, a book/movie that probably would have an overlapping audience with Before I Wake: “I fell in love like you would fall asleep: slowly and then all at once.” The same could be said about this movie’s plot line.

Standout Scene: The vine walls.

Rating: 🔪🔪 (2/5)

Scare Meter: 😱

11. Ouija: Origin of Evil

Ouija: Origin of Evil – IMDB.com

Description: A scam artist psychic decides to boost her business through the inclusion of a Ouija board, inadvertently unleashing an evil spirit that possesses her daughter.

Strengths: Flanagan was summoned by Jason Blum after Ouija was critically panned, to revive the franchise with a much better prequel, and Origin of Evil was the final result. Flanagan mirrored the production with its 70s time period by using only filming equipment from that era, though he clearly reached back into the future for those CGI mouths. Those demon faces are freaky.

Weaknesses: Based on the cheapness and frequency of the jump scares, I’m willing to bet that most weren’t Flanagan’s idea. It’s ultimately a Hollywood-soaked production, meaning that it’s less about a story and more about startling an audience and finding a way to deliver an ending that’s seemingly happy but then quickly pivots to maliciousness for the sake of a sequel—one we already knew was bad.

Standout Scene: The opening, where we get a humorous peek at the Zander family scam business.

Rating: 🔪 (1/5)

Scare Meter: 😱😱

One thought on “RANKING: Mike Flanagan’s Horror Filmography

Leave a Reply