The Films of Mike Flanagan
Ghosts of Hamilton Street
Absentia (October 20/16)
A rare (and total) misfire from Mike Flanagan, Absentia follows Courtney Bell's Tricia as she and her sister (Catherine Parker's Callie) link a nearby tunnel to a series of mysterious disappearances - including Tricia's own husband (who vanished seven years earlier). It's immediately apparent that Flanagan is working with a shoestring budget here, as Absentia suffers from a decidedly rough-around-the-edges feel that's reflected primarily in the low-rent visuals and less-than-professional performances. Flanagan's initial efforts at cultivating a ominous atmosphere are relatively successful, at least, and there's little doubt that Absentia fares best in its sporadically creepy first half (which seems to promise a far more engaging and horrific third act than we ultimately get). The often excessively deliberate pace becomes more and more problematic as the spare picture slowly unfolds, as it's increasingly clear that there's just not enough material here to sustain a full-length running time (ie the movie is rife with overlong, padded-out sequences that wreak havoc on the almost non-existent momentum). It's not surprising, then, that the late-in-the-game introduction of Lovecraftian elements falls disappointingly (and distressingly) flat, with the movie's low budget forcing Flanagan to eschew overt instances of special effects in favor a more discreet (yet often confusing) approach. There is, in the end, little doubt that Absentia is simply unable to coalesce into a consistent (and satisfying) piece of work, which is a shame, certainly, given the tremendous strength of Flanagan's subsequent endeavors.
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Hush (April 9/16)
It's hard to deny that the home-invasion genre has been done to death in the last several years, and yet it's equally clear that filmmaker Mike Flanagan, following up his excellent Oculus, does a superb job of employing a rather familiar premise as a springboard for a tense and creepy little chiller. The narrative follows deaf author Maddie (Kate Siegel) as she's stalked by a malevolent figure (John Gallagher Jr) at a remote cottage, with the movie predominantly detailing the inevitable game of cat and mouse that ensues between the two characters. Hush kicks off with an admittedly engrossing opening stretch revolving around Maddie's isolated existence, with the promising atmosphere heightened by Siegel's absolutely mesmerizing turn as the sympathetic central character. There's little doubt, as well, that the initial emphasis on Gallagher's surreptitious pursuit of Maddie is handled exceedingly well by Flanagan, as these scenes have been infused with a feeling of palpable suspense that paves the way for a decent (if overly familiar) midsection - with the less-than-surprising second act benefiting substantially from an ongoing inclusion of nailbiting sequences. The erratic vibe becomes non-existent as Hush storms into its engrossing final half hour, which boasts one captivating interlude after another and ratchets up the tension to an almost unbearable level - with the strong ending effectively confirming the movie's place as another solid effort from a justifiably up-and-coming filmmaker.
Before I Wake (April 23/17)
A rare disappointment from Mike Flanagan, Before I Wake follows Mark (Thomas Jane) and Jessie (Kate Bosworth) as they agree to take in an orphaned child (Jacob Tremblay's Cody) after suffering a personal tragedy - with the movie detailing the violence that eventually ensues as it becomes clear that Cody isn't just a normal little kid. There's ultimately little doubt that Before I Wake fares best in its deliberate yet compelling first half, as Flanagan does an effective job of establishing the seemingly simple narrative and three central characters - with the ongoing inclusion of creepy images certainly perpetuating and heightening the movie's promising atmosphere. It's clear, however, that the movie's often excessively slow execution prevents the viewer from wholeheartedly embracing the narrative, with the progressively hands-off vibe compounded by a somewhat uneventful midsection that, perhaps inevitably, spends far too much time focused on Jessie's investigation into Cody's past. The film's eventual shift into full-on fantasy territory, as a result, falls disappointingly flat, and although the climactic revelations force one to view everything preceding them in a whole new light, Before I Wake has, unfortunately, long-since confirmed its place as an ambitious endeavor that never quite manages to cohesively come together.
Ouija: Origin of Evil (October 19/16)
Set in 1967, Ouija: Origin of Evil follows single mother Alice Zander (Elizabeth Reaser) as she and her two daughters (Annalise Basso's Paulina and Lulu Wilson's Doris) slowly-but-surely come under attack by a vicious demon - with the besieged clan eventually seeking help from a local priest (Henry Thomas' Father Tom). It's certainly not a stretch to label Ouija: Origin of Evil an obvious (and total) improvement over its rather mediocre predecessor, 2014's Ouija, as filmmaker Mike Flanagan has infused the proceedings with an old-school feel that's generally impossible to resist - with the movie's refreshingly deliberate pace allowing Flanagan to develop the central characters and creepy atmosphere. (It's worth noting, too, that the ongoing inclusion of period-appropriate elements, including cigarette burns and split-diopter-enhanced shots, heightens the film's affable vibe.) And although Flanagan's patient sensibilities eventually (and inevitably) shine a light on the somewhat thin storyline, Ouija: Origin of Evil, armed with an escalating sense of dread, builds to an unexpectedly engrossing third act that makes up in energy what it lacks in originality (ie it essentially plays like a funhouse version of The Exorcist) - with the film's ultimate success confirming, if there was still any doubt, Flanagan's place as a seriously promising up-and-comer.