I first saw Flanagan’s feature debut—which he wrote, edited, and directed—in 2011 when it was making the horror film festival rounds, and it stuck with me. When he started making much bigger films, I remembered his name and had an “Ah yes, that’s the guy who made that skin-crawling Absentia movie that gave me nightmares” epiphany. The perfect combo of mundane setting (a suburban neighborhood with an access tunnel at the end of the block) and uncanny situation (that tunnel is not what it seems), Absentia also makes great use of characters who feel like real people: a weary woman (Courtney Bell) who’s finally ready to move on from her long-missing husband, both legally and emotionally, and her equally weary sister (Katie Parker), whose attempts at staying sober are challenged when the supernatural makes an unexpected appearance. Absentia is streaming on Shudder.
Where can you watch Oculus (2013)?
Movies about haunted mirrors aren’t all that uncommon—Snow White got there first, but you could make a mini-festival with 1969’s Fear No Evil, 1974’s From Beyond the Grave, 1980’s The Boogeyman, and 1993’s Amityville: A New Generation, and this film, based on a short Flanagan made in 2005. The implied “reflecting the evil within myself” message these tales lend themselves to can sometimes feel heavy-handed, and while Oculus isn’t quite on the level of Flanagan’s greatest works, it still crafts a deeply disturbing story exploring themes that clearly fascinate the filmmaker, since he’s returned to them multiple times. These include fraught sibling relationships, the overwhelming temptation to return to a location where a Very Bad Thing has happened (even though you know you shouldn’t), and the idea that a terrible family trauma can reverberate for years in alarming ways—especially when that trauma involves something malevolently supernatural. The cast includes a pre-Guardians of the Galaxy, post-Doctor Who Karen Gillen and Battlestar Galactica’s Katee Sackhoff, as well as Annalise Basso (who’s also in Ouija: Origin of Evil) and Kate Siegel (who’s been in almost everything that Flanagan, her spouse since 2016, has done since). Oculus is streaming on Amazon Prime.
Where can you watch Ouija: Origin of Evil (2016)?
Clue will likely always reign supreme as the greatest movie based on a board game, but Ouija: Origin of Evil is so entertaining it more than justifies its existence. No small thing considering it’s the prequel to 2014’s Ouija, a movie that made us long for the 1980s excess of Witchboard and absolutely did not need any sort of follow-up. However, we’re glad it got one, because the end result brought Flanagan (who directed, edited, and co-wrote with Jeff Howard) together with future Hill House stars Elizabeth Reaser, Lulu Wilson, and Henry Thomas in a 1960s-set tale of a widow with two daughters, one Ouija board, and a family home with a hell of a dark secret buried in the basement. Ouija: Origin of Evil is streaming on HBO Max.
Where can you watch Doctor Sleep (2019)?
Much like Ouija—but for entirely different reasons—nobody was really crying out for a sequel to The Shining. But Stephen King wrote one, and fortunately the inevitable sequel found its way into Flanagan’s filmography, bringing us a film that pays homage to both King’s original and sequel novels and Stanley Kubrick’s much-loved (by everyone except King, seemingly) 1980 film. Doctor Sleep might not be as scary as The Shining, but it’s a visually dazzling showcase for Flanagan, who somehow makes dread, despair, decay, and a plot that involves a lot of people going into their own heads feel dynamic and exciting, not to mention lush and gorgeous. He’s obviously found a very fruitful niche in the realm of Netflix horror series (after Midnight Mass, he’s got another series, The Midnight Club) but eventually—hopefully—he’ll return to the big screen one of these days. Doctor Sleep is streaming on Amazon Prime.
Midnight Mass begins streaming on Netflix on Friday, September 24.
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