Tag Archives: mike flanagan

Mike Flanagan’s Doctor Sleep

I read a thing recently that Stephen King’s The Shining and Doctor Sleep, although two sides of the same coin, are very much in different places thematically. The Shining deals with isolation, confinement and madness whereas Doctor Sleep explores escape, pursuit and redemption. This could be the reason that I loved Mike Flanagan’s Doctor Sleep a lot more than I did Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining, which felt so much richer, wider in scope, ambition and rewarding in story. The Shining is a cold, hard and admittedly brilliant horror film but going from that aesthetic to Doctor Sleep is like holding your breath until you almost faint and then letting out one monumental exhale that feels a lot better than what came before. Sleep is the exhale, a flowing, horrific, cathartic and gorgeous dark jewel of a horror film that stands as loving homage to Kubrick’s film but just does so much more on a wider canvas.

Flanagan spends the first half of this story establishing setting, characters and history in economic yet leisurely fashion, as this runs for a delicious two and a half hours. Dan Torrence (Roger Dale Floyd) and his mom Wendy (Alex Essoe, not quite a dead ringer for Shelley Duvall but she finds her own essence and I liked her work) survived their nightmarish stay at the haunted Overlook Hotel and did their best to carry on with life. Fast forward all the way to 2011 and Dan is now a haggard looking and near homeless Ewan McGregor, bus hopping his way across the states and arriving in a small county to find help from AA and work at a hospice for dying elderly folks. Elsewhere, a roving band of vampiric creatures calling themselves The True Knot search for kids like Dan who possess the ‘Shine’, and consume it for sustenance. Also out there is young Abra (Kyliegh Curran), a girl with maybe the biggest reservoir of Shine within her and the power to defeat the Knot and their evil leader Rose The Hat (Rebecca Ferguson). This power struggle of course eventually leads them back to where Dan’s story originally began, the now derelict and rotting Overlook, fast asleep and waiting.

I loved this film. It’s so much more comprehensive and on fire than The Shining’s chilly aura gave us. Characters are sharply drawn, performances are wonderfully shaped and there are so many ideas, references and nods to the King Dark Tower multiverse that positively gave me chills. Ferguson is a tornado of pure malice as Rose The Hat, embodying shades of Stevie Nicks and playing this evil supernatural gypsy bitch to the absolute height of performance. Curran is a brilliant find as Abra, she radiates the resilience of this kid while clearly showing the fear, uncertainty and vulnerability of someone with such powers. McGregor is gruff and haunted as Dan, a casting choice that seems simultaneously out of left field and fitting like a glove. There are other familiar faces across this landscape including Cliff Curtis, Bruce Greenwood, Henry Thomas, Robert Longstreet, Zahn McLarnon and Carel Stryucken who we fondly remember as The Fireman from Twin Peaks and The Moonlight Man from Flanagan’s Gerald’s Game. Room’s Jacob Tremblay also shows up as an unfortunate young victim of The Knot who gets slaughtered in a sequence of raw evil that will send a shiver down spines en masse. At the heart of this story is compassion though; Dan, with the help of an adorable cat, eases numerous elderly folks across the threshold of death with kindness and these scenes affect overall and add warmth to his character, while hitting me on a deeply personal level given my experiences with such things this past year. He’s forced to go back and confront the evil that he prayed he’d never see again and it’s a strong ray of redemption, for him and his now dead father who fell victim to such horrors. There is a lot at work here, it blows this world right open and finds connective tissue to King’s universe where Kubrick kept things close to the chest and contained. One of the best horror films, King adaptations and pieces of storytelling I’ve seen in some time.

-Nate Hill

Mike Flanagan’s The Haunting Of Hill House

Netflix has been knocking it out of the park with their originals this year, and Mike Flanagan’s Haunting Of Hill House is no exception. Flanagan is the man behind 2013’s brilliant psychological opus Oculus and last year’s stellar Stephen King adaptation of Gerald’s Game, he’s been cutting his teeth and proving solid mettle in the horror genre for years now, and with this one he’s given the freedom of long form storytelling to give us a supremely chilling, deeply depressing yet surprisingly cathartic and effective piece of frightmare bliss than any horror fan will love. Based on a book by Shirley Jackson, I can’t speak for faithfulness to source material here but I can say that this is powerful, thoughtful and frequently terrifying stuff, a haunted house tale interwoven with rich, deep family drama and complicated psychological aspects that makes for an invigorating, if nerve exhausting experience.

From the first night the Crain family moves into vast, ornate Hill House mansion right up until the final, fateful night Mr. Crain packs up his five children and flees the estate without Mrs. Crain, they are relentlessly plagued by ghosts, spectres, bumps in the night, haunting visions and things you can’t even describe. The film flashes back between the children’s stressful childhood having to spend a year or so in the house, and to the present time where they have somewhat gone their separate ways and all have inner demons to face, stemming right back to their experience there. Did their mother really get overtaken by malevolent spirits, or did she simply lose mind? Why didn’t their father tell them anything about what he saw in the mysterious red room moments before he evacuated them in a panic? What was real and what wasn’t? Will they be able to overcome the residual trauma of these painful, scarring events and carry on into the light of their adult lives, or will the darkness envelop them as it did their poor mother? It’s a complex, dense story that goes way beyond simple haunted house motifs and cuts a direct line to the essential using the blueprint of a horror film, and that makes it something special.

Flanagan is fascinated by themes of mental illness and the ambiguity that lies there, and as he did with Oculus, he makes it a little bit tough to see where the vague line between psychosis and actual supernatural forces is drawn, letting the audience ponder what is actually real to some degree. Certainly the house is haunted for real, it’s too convenient that an entire seven person family would show symptoms that extreme, but how much did the house really do, and how much is in the shattered perceptions of these tormented folks? I love the complexity and challenges we get as a viewer there and can’t wait to see what Flanagan does next in his career to build upon these themes.

Now the big question: Is it scary? Oh my yes. I’m not easily rattled by horror but this has some of the most blood freezing moments of inspired ghostly terror I’ve seen, and a few that made me walk away and go find one of the cats or the dog to hold as I made the well thought out decision to watch most of this at night while I was alone in the house. From a scuttling zombie in a dumb waiter shaft, floating spirits that roam hallways peering in doors and looking under beds, the freaky ass ‘Bent Neck Lady’, giant dogs and all sorts of other stuff, this house is packed to the brim with terror. It’s also relentless, like you don’t even get that much of a break between scares and before the family can launch another heated, dramatic argument there’s already some leering ghoul or screeching apparition on their heels, even when they’re grown up and far from the house. They’re well staged, unexpected scares too, some of them reaching that chilling point where you genuinely wish you didn’t see what you just saw because you know you’ll lose sleep.

The cast is carefully chosen and all give beautiful work, but the standout has to be Carla Gugino in a difficult role as Mrs. Crain, loving mother, troubled woman and fallen angel. Carla did a showstopper in Flanagan’s Gerald’s Game last year and tops it here with an intense, passionate turn that echoes Jack Torrence while showing the aching confusion of a broken mind in crystal clear fashion. Henry Thomas does his best as Mr. Crain but they saddled him with unnatural blue contact lenses that make him look more like one of the ghosts than a human father, while Timothy Hutton fares excellently as the older version of him. The children are all vividly drawn, both in childhood and grown up later, brought to life by a talented bunch including Michael Huisman, McKenna Grace, Violet McGraw, Victoria Pedretti, Lulu Wilson, Julian Hilliard, Oliver Jackson Cohen, Elizabeth Reeser, Kate Siegel and Paxton Singleton.

Flanagan has shown true innovation here as a storyteller, deliberately editing together the narrative like a fractured patchwork quilt of scenes, starting some and doubling back to them a few episodes later so they tie in a certain way and show you a new angle on a character you wouldn’t have surmised, bringing things from a tactical, developed slow burn to a hair raising all out finale that shows us every ghost the house has to offer, but more importantly those that exist in the psyche of each family member, and the relationship between them. Cinematographer Michael Fimognari strives to use cuts seldom and hold the shots as long as possible, creating some dynamic, flowing camera work that captures things succinctly without any frenetic nonsense or hectic motion. The show samples everything from David Lynch style sound design, Stanley Kubrick visuals a lá The Shining, The Conjuring esque retro vibes, Stephen King trippy cerebral narratives and more, but it’s definitely a distinct piece all its own, from an original voice of horror that disarms, affects and scares no end. This is the kind of horror I love seeing, where the scares are used to illuminate and say something about the characters, because if you don’t care about them once the ghosts start coming out, well then the story has lost you in cheap parlour tricks. Flanagan knows this, and doesn’t let anyone off easy with his arresting, unexpected story. Brilliant stuff.

-Nate Hill

Mike Flanagan’s Oculus


What scares you most in the horror genre? Masked killers in isolated settings? Booby trapped razor wire rooms? Demon possession? Werewolves? Ghosts? Those are all well and good, but nothing messes my shit up more than psychological uncertainty, the feeling that anything you see might not be real, and the layers of your perception are gradually being fucked with in a subtle way. Such are the terrors that Mike Flanagan’s Oculus traffics in, a film that takes postmodern horror expectations and strangles the life out of them in favour of something far more effective. You’ll read surface level summaries claiming this to be about a haunted mirror. It…is. Sort of. And it isn’t. Then it is again, and before you know it you have no idea what’s real and feel like leaving the television and hiding in a back room for fear of an incoming dissociative episode (true story). See, the haunted mirror is just the suggestive tip of a very dense psychological iceberg, a starting point to a narrative that’s disturbing in ways that few big budget horror films understand. When an idyllic American family moves into a perfect new house, life seems peachy. Following the arrival of an ornate antique mirror, things take a darker turn. The loving patriarch (Rory Cochrane, exuding natural charisma) turns fiercely psychotic, preying on his doting wife (Katee Sackoff) and terrorizing his son (Garrett Ryan) and daughter (Annalise Basso, terrific in a performance of true hurt and horror). The mirror seems to indeed be the source, but no clear correlation is ever established by the film, only heavy suggestion gnawed at by the notion that the parents may just be irreparably sick in the head, an idea just as, if not more scary than a sentient looking glass. After brutal tragedy, we flash forward a decade or so, the parents are gone and once again the daughter, now played by a dynamite Karen Gillan, tries to get to the source of what happened by locking herself, her brother (Brenton Thwaites, the only weak leak in an otherwise excellent acting ensemble) and that dang pesky mirror in their old house to destroy it. Bring on a panic inducing haunted house of the unconventional variety, one where something, either the mirror or inherited mental illness, plays endless nasty tricks of the mind on both of them until the viewer feels uncomfortable in their own thoughts, the fabric of internal reality ready to disintegrate into shards. Their plight is carefully interspersed (big kudos to Flanagan, serving as his own editor) with flashbacks to the harrowing ordeal they went through as children, as the loving parental unit collapses into madness before their eyes. Listen for a hair raising, subversive score by The Newton Brothers that just adds to the queasy cauldron of unease that this film is. It’s more brilliant than any widely released horror film has any right to be these days, a huge step in the right direction for the genre and a waking nightmare for anyone whose worst fear is losing their mind. 
-Nate Hill

Hush: A Review By Nate Hill

  
Well it’s arrived, folks. The first truly effective horror film of the year (that I’ve had a chance to see anyway). I was drowsily browsing Netflix and came upon Hush, sporting a snazzy poster and a premise ripped straight from the vintage horror flicks I grew up with. Compelled to give it a shot, I was rewarded with a slick, atmospheric and sturdily made exercise in suspense. It’s not often I feel true giddy tension while watching a thriller (even though most brashly guarantee it on the dvd cover), but this baby delivers in spades. It’s funny because the storyline is a identical to many movies of the past, and similar to countless more. The secret to success, obviously, is in the execution, and Hush is made with a caring love for a genre deeply ingrained in cinematic culture. Director. Mike Flanagan clearly loves horror films, and seems to want to rise above the primordial crust, calcifying his effort with a steady hand and fresh direction that gives even the most knowing plot turns a dose of torque using simple tools: a killer soundtrack, whiplash inducing editing and…and.. What’s the most important thing in any horror film? I’ve said it before and I’ll keep saying it: atmosphere. The setting finds us in a dusky, desolate area, where a deaf novelist (Katy Siegel) toils in isolation, churning out the trimmings of her next book on a laptop, content in her loneliness yet on the verge of unease stirred by cabin fever, restlessness or so,etching else. It’s not long before the film lands the first punch of many: a masked, crossbow wielding serial killer (John Gallagher spits on his previous good guy image, both terrifying, unrecognizable and superb) begins to stalk her with methodical menace, watching from the inky shadows of her home’s exterior while she cowers in terror. He catches on quick about her deafness and uses it against her, terrorizing her at every turn. Now, the film does use genre tropes to churn out its story, and anyone expecting something truly unique to pop out of the ether. Any be disappointed. But to those who yearn for solid, extremely well made horror entries to wade out of the muck and foretell the return to form of a genre that gets maybe two, three winners every year, can rejoice. This one comes up aces. Siegel is instantly likeable and gorgeous to boot, giving her protagonist a resilience that is actually believable, which can’t be said about every girl being pursued by a killer on screen. Gallagher is icky as the psycho, branded with certain idiosyncratic symbols of society which suggest that he’s a jaded outcast driven to sickening extremes by the hand he’s been dealt, given in to his dark impulses completely. For genre fans: this begs a watch and will likely be a highlight of the year. For casual viewers: fun, fun times and a vibe to get sucked in by. For non horror fans: just watch it anyway.