Mike Flanagan: The Maestro of Modern Horror


In the vast landscape of horror cinema, certain filmmakers carve a niche for themselves by bringing fresh perspectives and innovative techniques to age-old tales of terror. One such maestro in the realm of modern horror is Mike Flanagan. Over the past few years, Flanagan has risen to prominence as a storyteller par excellence, blending psychological tension with supernatural chills. With his most recent projects The Midnight Club (2022) and The Fall of the House of Usher (2023) surpassing the impressive precedent he set for himself back in 2011 with Absentia, it’s clear Flanagan won’t be slowing down any time soon. His work in horror films and TV is distinguished by his keen attention to character development, atmospheric dread, and thought-provoking narratives.

Rooted in Characters

Unlike many other films in the genre that often rely on cheap jump scares or gratuitous violence, Flanagan’s movies and series prioritize depth and substance. In Gerald’s Game (2017), for instance, the story revolves around a woman handcuffed to a bed in a remote cabin following her husband’s sudden death. The horror does not come from external monsters but from the protagonist’s inner demons. As she fights for survival, she is haunted by traumatic memories and visceral hallucinations. Flanagan brilliantly portrays the psychological and emotional torment of the character, making the audience empathize with her, rooting for her escape not just from the physical restraints but also from her haunting past. Flanagan is also known for his frequent collaborations with the same actors. He routinely works with a variety of well-known performers, such as his wife Kate Siegel, Carla Gugino, Henry Thomas, Katie Parker, Robert Longstreet, Samantha Sloyan, Bruce Greenwood, Rahul Kohli, Amelia Eve, and Zach Gilford. Flanagan has also become known for his willingness to work with emerging actors, such as Henry Thomas and Victoria Pedretti.

Crafting Atmospheric Horror

Flanagan’s capability to create a chilling atmosphere without resorting to overt horror tropes is another hallmark of his style. This is evident in The Haunting of Hill House (2018), a Netflix series that is both a family drama and a ghost story. While it does have its share of spirits and eerie sequences, the most haunting aspects of the series are the traumas and unresolved tensions between the Crain siblings as adult children. The sprawling gothic mansion is not just a house filled with ghosts, but a manifestation of the family’s collective grief, guilt, and unresolved issues. The scares are masterfully interwoven with poignant moments, making it a deeply emotional experience for the viewer.

Narrative Complexity

Doctor Sleep (2019), a sequel to Stephen King’s The Shining, showcases Flanagan’s talent in dealing with complex narratives. Crafting a sequel to a story as iconic as The Shining is no small feat, especially when considering the weight of Stanley Kubrick’s legendary adaptation. However, Flanagan manages to bridge King’s literary world with Kubrick’s cinematic one, delivering a film that pays homage to its roots while standing on its own. The story, focusing on an adult Danny Torrance battling with his traumatic past and a new supernatural threat, intertwines multiple storylines and layers of horror, showcasing Flanagan’s adeptness in handling intricate plots.

Emphasis on Humanity

A recurrent theme across Flanagan’s projects is the focus on humanity amidst the horror. Oculus (2013), a tale about a haunted mirror, delves deep into the fractured relationships of a family and the lasting impact of childhood trauma. The Lasser Glass, the malevolent mirror in the story, not only manipulates reality but also exacerbates the existing issues within the family, making it a metaphor for unresolved emotional baggage. The horror of Oculus is not just in the supernatural occurrences but in witnessing a family torn apart by an evil force.

Similarly, in The Haunting of Bly Manor (2020), the second installment in the Haunting anthology based on The Turn of the Screw by Henry James, Flanagan takes a classic ghost story and infuses each of the show’s episodes with a tale of love, loss, and acceptance. Though there are ghosts and eerie sequences, the real horrors stem from human emotions: the pain of unrequited love, the agony of loss, and the terror of being forgotten. The same emphasis on humanity is put on even clearer display in Midnight Mass (2021), which places more specific targets on forgiveness, redemption, and guilt.


Mike Flanagan’s works are not your run-of-the-mill horror projects. They are, at their core, human stories wrapped in a cloak of supernatural dread. His characters are not mere victims of external entities; they are individuals battling their inner demons, be it guilt, trauma, or fear. By prioritizing character development and emotional depth, Flanagan ensures that the audience is invested in the fate of the protagonists.

Moreover, his emphasis on atmospheric horror, combined with his meticulous craftsmanship, elevates his projects from mere scare-fests to cinematic masterpieces. He weaves narratives that are intricate and layered, ensuring that viewers are not just scared, but also stimulated intellectually and emotionally.

In a genre often dismissed for its lack of depth or originality, Mike Flanagan’s scary stories stand out as beacons of innovation and substance. His unique approach to storytelling ensures that his works are not just horror stories but profound explorations of the human psyche. In a world teeming with monsters, both real and imagined, Flanagan reminds us that the most complex and terrifying landscapes are often the ones within us.