Tag Archives: Mike Flanagan

What’s Up, Doc?

Doctor Sleep

by Hope Madden and George Wolf

The Shining was always going to be a hard act to follow, even for Stephen King.

But as soon as King revisited the horror with Doctor Sleep, the bigger challenge instantly fell to whomever was tasked with bringing it to the screen.

That would be writer/director Mike Flanagan, who’s trying on two pairs of pretty big shoes. His vision will not only be judged next to one of the most iconic horror films of all time, but also by the source author who famously doesn’t like that film.

While Doctor Sleep does often feel as if Flanagan is trying to serve two (or more) masters, it ultimately finds enough common ground to become an effective, if only mildly frightening return trip.

After surviving the attempted redrum, adult Dan Torrence (Ewan McGregor) is struggling to stay clean and sober. He’s quietly earning his chips, and is even enjoying a long distance “shine” relationship with the teenaged Abra (Kyliegh Curran).

But Abra and her unusually advanced gifts have also attracted the attention of Rose the Hat (Rebecca Ferguson, sweetly menacing) and her cult of undead travelers. Similarly gifted, Rose and her band seek out young shiners, feeding on their powers to remain immortal.

Flanagan breaks the spooky spell to dive into terror in a truly unnerving sequence between Ferguson’s gang and a shiny little baseball player (Jacob Tremblay). Effectively gritty and hard to shake, it is the one moment the film fully embraces its horror lineage.

Reportedly, Flanagan had to convince King that it is Kubrick’s version of The Shining that reigns in popular culture (as it should), and that their new film should reflect that. Smart move, as is the choice to hit you early with lookalike actors in those famous roles from 1980.

Is it jarring seeing new faces as young Danny, Wendy, Dick Halloran and more? Yes it is, but as the film unfolds you see Flanagan had little choice but to go that route, and better to get comfy with it by the time Dan is back among the ghosts of the Overlook hotel.

King has made it clear he needed more emotional connection to his characters than Kubrick’s film provided. McGregor helps bridge that gap, finding a childlike quality beneath the ugly, protective layers that have kept Danny Torrence from dealing with a horrific past.

Flanagan (Oculus, Hush, Before I Wake, Gerald’s Game) stumbles most when he relies on awkward (and in some cases, needless) exposition to clarify and articulate answers. Kubrick was stingy in that regard, which was one of The Shining‘s great strengths. Questions are scary, answers seldom are.

Whatever the film’s setbacks and faults, it is good fun getting back to the Overlook and catching the many Shining callbacks (including a cameo from Danny Lloyd, the original Danny Torrence). Flanagan’s vision does suffer by comparison, but how could it not? Give him credit for ignoring that fact and diving in, leaving no question that he’s as eager to see what’s around each corner as we are.

Doctor Sleep can’t match the claustrophobic nature or the vision of cold, creeping dread Kubrick developed. This film often tries too hard to please—not a phrase you’d associate with the 1980 film. The result is a movie that never seems to truly find its own voice.

It’s no masterpiece, but check in and you’ll find a satisfying, generally spooky time.

Bringing Your Work Home

Ouija: Origin of Evil

by Hope Madden

It’s a rare thing for a sequel to better its predecessor. It helps when the bar is not particularly high in the first place.

Such is the case for Ouija: Origin of Evil. A prequel to the 2014 by-the-numbers spook flick Ouija, the new iteration takes us back to a stylish 1965 where a struggling widow (Elizabeth Reaser) tries to eek out a living as a fortune teller.

Though her goal is noble – she just wants to bring peace to the grieving – her gig is a scam. Worse still, she enlists the help of her 9 and 16-year-old daughters. But when she brings a Ouija board home to liven up the act, her youngest turns out to be the real medium.

This is not a great film. It is, however, not half bad.

Director Mike Flanagan (Absentia, Hush), who co-wrote with Jeff Howard, has proven that he can mine even familiar territory for chills. His casting certainly doesn’t hurt.

Rather than relying on fresh faced teens to carry a supernatural slasher, he turns to seasoned actors – Reaser and Henry Thomas (that’s right – Elliot!) – to ground the fantastical elements with understated but believable performances.

The important roles, though, are the kids. Annalise Basso – so strong in Flanagan’s middling Oculus – again nails a performance as a normal kid living through extraordinary circumstances.

Lulu Wilson plays the wee spiritualist Doris, and though she occasionally slips into something too cloying, for the most part she handles her part with a nice balance of innocence and eeriness.

Flanagan wisely picks up enough from the previous film for this origins story to make it a proper standalone effort. He does get a bit heavy handed with the tiresome FX (is anyone still undone by a crab walking pre-adolescent at this point?), but for 2/3 of the film his approach is more measured. He lets the appealing performances and family dynamic do most of the heavy lifting.

Elements that weaker filmmakers would have hit hard Flanagan allows to linger, to become intriguing rather than damning.

As has been the case throughout his career, he can’t quite close the deal. Though never terrifying and rarely fresh, Origin of Evil still brings enough era-specific nods and spook house moments to be a fun seasonal escape – but never more than that.


Less Smoke, More Mirror


by Hope Madden

Back in 2011, writer/director Mike Flanagan unleashed the impressive nightmare Absentia, a film that cost him just $70,000 to make. Creepy, memorable and extremely well crafted given the budget, the film suggested an artist who deserved a chance with some real money.

Armed with the genre cred from that film, as well as the story from his well-received short, Flanagan embarked on his first wide-release horror film, Oculus.

His new effort follows a pair of siblings looking to prove that their childhood family horror was actually the fault of a cursed mirror.

Flanagan braids present day events and flashbacks effectively, not just to illustrate the ghastly deeds of the siblings’ youth, but to emphasize the growing madness of the brother and sister as they revisit the scene of the crime and set about proving their theory.

He has better luck with the performances of the youngsters in the cast than their present-day counterparts. Ten-year-old Kaylie Russell (played with convincing spunk by Annalise Basso) and her little brother Tim (Garrett Ryan) survived a family meltdown of Overlook Hotel proportions. While Tim’s spent his formative years institutionalized and learning to accept a more logical version of the events, Kaylie bounced around foster homes doing research and plotting to clear her family name, prove her version of the story, and break that damn mirror.

The pouty Karen Gillan (Dr.Who) offers more insincere bravado than spunk as the adult version of the determined sister, while Brenton Thwaites’s newly-released Tim has as much charisma as a tuna sandwich. For this reason, the flashback sequences hold more attention than the modern-day plans to undo the evil.

Plus, terrorized children are just more scary than whining adults.

Flanagan has some real skill weaving the rational world with one full of madness, and he knows when to rely on FX and when to be craftier with his scares. Unfortunately, his pacing is frustratingly slow, which makes his climax feel like a bit of a cheat. It’s hard not to compare his work with others of similar themes – The Shining, for example – and in that company, Oculus falls quite short.