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In honor of his birthday, we celebrate the impressive career of one of the most talented modern filmmakers in the genre, Mike Flanagan.

Mike Flanagan

File:Mike Flanagan (Director).jpg by Mflana1 is licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0
Intro by Jamie Alvey

From the time his first film Absentia premiered in 2011, Mike Flanagan has proved himself a strong creative in the horror world. For the past ten glorious years, Flanagan has provided audiences with horror that is terrifying and heart-wrenching. You let out screams and shed tears in equal measure.

His quietly affecting approach to horror makes fear personal. It creeps in and coils around your bones and settles in the marrow there. Flanagan takes up residence in the psyche and he whispers to you the fears that you dare not put a name to — whether it be the claustrophobia of loneliness, the crushing weight of guilt, or the looming terror of trauma. Horror is naturally a genre of emotions, and Flanagan understands this.

If anything, horror is existential and Flanagan’s storytelling mastery reflects that. He deftly plays and plots in many subgenres of horror, proving to be a shapeshifter in his own right. There’s a beauty to the fact he understands what makes us human and what terrifies us. We can find ourselves consumed by the gorgeous terror he offers. It’s divine, it’s spiritual.

It only seems right to celebrate the man that has given horror his all and both comforted and terrified us with his works. Flanagan’s works are an experience like no other, and this is why he stands as one of horror’s modern masters. We are seeing the works of a great unfold before our eyes and it is a pleasure to share this space in time with him while he is creating.

Today, on his birthday, we will be reflecting on Flanagan’s stellar body of work and look ahead to his creative future. It’s an honor to be able to continually write about his works and lift up his unique and artful perspective on horror and humanity in general.

1. OCULUS: CHAPTER 3 – THE MAN WITH THE PLAN (2006)

A love letter by Rob Gaeta

Mike Flanagan’s name has been on the tip of just about every indie-horror fan’s tongue since his auspicious feature film debut in 2011. That film was called Absentia, and its (very) low budget was no match for several impressive elements that Flanagan would carry with him throughout the rest of his career (meticulous character development, effectively complementary musical scores, and natural performances).

Prior to this promising entrance, his first foray into the genre was the 2006 short film Oculus: Chapter 3 – The Man with the Plan (to date, the only chapter, and the precursor to a 2013 feature film).

Clocking in at just about the half-hour mark, it shares multiple plot similarities and dialogue with the film it inspired but trades in a brother-sister showcase for a one-man psychological descent that makes surprisingly ample use of its single location, trapping the viewer in a genuinely disconcerting foray into the lasting power of trauma, and the marks it leaves.

The plot involves Tim Russel who, upon tracing an enduring history of tragedy revolving around the mysterious Lasser mirror, has rigged an intricate surveillance operation in the hope of catching the nefarious reflector in the act on tape once and for all. Adding to the drama is Tim’s vested interest in the mirror, having experienced his own personal tragedy with it. This direct link provides us with an emotional anchor, and the audience involvement it results in is one of the more engaging aspects of Flanagan’s oeuvre: his ability to garner intensive audience investment by way of relatable human elements taking the forefront in otherwise fantastical stories.

There is a pumping viscous heart at the center of anything Flanagan puts his name on.

Outside of the philosophical journeys that he often puts his characters and spectators through, Flanagan does not forget for a second what type of movie his audience is watching, and his stories are planned out accordingly, but never predictably.

Nope, no telegraphed jump scares here or signaling stingers employed. Instead, he demands careful and devoted attention from his gentle viewers — paying off with astoundingly horrific blink-and-you’ll-miss-em tableaus, and thought-provoking denouements that often invite meaningful and lasting audience participation in unpacking the multiple layers splayed out.

Above all else, Flanagan’s Oculus short is a welcome (but not new) reminder of the time-honored ‘less is more’ conceit, and the patient style of his work echoes a more prestigious era in Hollywood horror filmmaking when the story was the star, and everything else was complimentary.

Refusing (or merely an inability) to rely on big-budget amenities like CGI or lavish production design has clearly worked in Flanagan’s favor, who to this day has not sacrificed character development in favor of typical Tinseltown thrills, as seen in his high-profile and critically lauded Doctor Sleep in 2019.

It is both wonderful and inspiring to see the humble and confident geneses that Oculus: Chapter 3 lays out — weaving together a bittersweet tapestry of loss, love, trauma, of those who are left behind to re-assemble the remaining shards of the past.

You can check out this short for yourself right here on YouTube.

Where to Watch

2. ABSENTIA (2011)

A love letter by Conor McShane

Along with vengeful spirits, malevolent mirrors, and home invaders, the films of Mike Flanagan almost always feature characters grappling with the all-too-real specters of grief, addiction, and trauma.

This throughline can be traced back through nearly all of his projects, from adults turning to substances to cope with the horrors of their childhood in Doctor Sleep and The Haunting of Hill House, to a woman coming to terms with sexual abuse in Gerald’s Game, to the grief-stricken parents of Before I Wake,