From Hill House to The Midnight Club: the evolution of Mike Flanagan

There is a thin thread that binds fear to the director and screenwriter Mike Flanagan, a continuous succession of themes, developments and images that are often frightening, at other times a little less, but always based on a genre that the author continues to explore, shaping it according to his own need. Being born in a town like Salem, famous for the terrifying witch trials that shook the community at the end of the 1600s – unfortunately providing a very real basis for many works of American horror – has perhaps directed a career immediately marked by frightening the spectators.

From the first explorations on film, between more or less successful films in which the presence in the cast of his wife Kate Siegel (a well-known face of subsequent serial productions) stands out, we have moved on to the multi-year agreement with Netflix, crowned with a triptych of extremely popular TV series by critics and audiences despite the wide and evident divergences that characterize them. To this celebrated horror triplet, another work has recently been added that is not afraid to make clear the profound distance that separates it from the others, yet The Midnight Club it was not received with the same honors lavished on the “older sisters” (ours review by The Midnight Club can explain the concept better): let’s therefore analyze the long thematic journey of a showrunner who has always been committed to crossing the boundaries of horror, a genre that he has often used only as a basis from which to start to arrive at more intimate and personal reflections.

Another haunted house

Is there anything more conventional than a haunted house? Incipit already widely gutted, bent and completely overturned for hundreds of years through literature, cinema and TV series, yet chosen by Mike Flanagan as the foundation of a show that arrived almost quietly, despite the noise caused by the attempt to adaptation of a classic such as Hill House’s Nightmareperhaps one of the most famous scary tales in history.

Bringing such a peculiar author as Shirley Jackson to the small screen was by no means an easy task, in her works the writer has always danced on the edge of terror without ever showing it openly, but Flanagan enjoyed good collective trust thanks to the excellent work done with another big shot like that, why Gerald’s Game it turned out to be a film worthy of the original Stephen King material.

Unlike what he did with the King’s tale, the showrunner used Jackson’s novel as a sort of narrative pretext, abounding its shores of expectation and suspense without too many hesitations to build, on the contrary, a classic horror product in which monsters they hide in wardrobes and under children’s beds. Among chilling apparitions left to hover in the background of numerous shotsbut ignored by the characters as if they were aimed precisely at the public, and a direction much above the average of television productions – at times monumental, as in the entire episode shot with a fake sequence shot – in The Haunting of Hill House the horror became the vehicle of a choral story, intimate and multifaceted like the personalities of very different protagonists, each in some way wounded and marked by a supernatural experience that was only the mirror of a concrete malaise (recovered here the our review of The Haunting of Hill House).

The psychological and character base, analyzed by the excellent writing and by a cast completely immersed in the part, is the true treasure of a work capable of frightening and to be impressed by the shrewd use of horror imageryand that is why Flanagan makes it the fundamental hub of the spiritual successor of Hill House: with Bly Manor the showrunner adapts another classic of genre literature, transforming it into a short story immediately based on the protagonists and their feelings.

Fear of the afterlife

After freezing the blood in his veins, forcing the audience to rediscover the creeping pleasure of a well-orchestrated fright, Flanagan breaks with his great recent past and bases a delicate story, which proudly points to emotion rather than fearframed by a format of “spiritual successor” manifested with the resumption of some themes – such as that of the haunted house, but also of the “human” ghosts that inhabit it – and with the revival of familiar faces, transported from Hill House to Bly Manor after having slightly changed their physical and character connotations, as if they were the protagonists of two parallel realities with some small points of contact.

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Flanagan’s second experience with Netflix proves to be courageous in his wanting to break with pre-established screens, an authorial approach that we can only appreciate in a serial reality that is too lazy and not prone to risk, but at the same time does not miss the big target: how we told you in the review of The Haunting of Bly Manor, the series does not scare and does not keep you awake at night, but it tells its love story very well thanks to a never banal sentimentality. From that moment on, the public understood that Flanagan should not expect “only” horror and fright, and in fact the following year it was up to The Midnight Mass upset the preconceptions related to its production.

For the first time, the author born in Salem does not rely on a novel and constructs a disturbing tale, with shades of psychological and supernatural thriller, but above all personal and felt in his painting of a religious faith plagued by anguish. The anxiety coming from a superior power that is impossible to control moves the deep reflections of characters as usual with attention to the smallest details, brought once again to the screen by a solid and unassailable direction (but above all by a photograph).

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It is a creeping fear that amalgamates the third Netflix production by Flanagan – here there Midnight Mass review -, which explodes with anger in measured and indispensable scenes in marking the narrative rhythm of the show, and it is the same that becomes the protagonist of the most recent The Midnight Club. As already happened for The Haunting of Bly Manorthe showrunner uses horror as a mere visual pretext, because the script soon abandons supernatural suggestions to focus on the feelings of its characters.

The terminally ill young people in the nursing home meet at midnight to tell each other thrilling stories, of course, but like any good story their inventions refer to the short life they enjoyedDull relationships, broken families and the terror of an inexorable countdown mark lives destined for certain death, but not easy to accept.

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Fear, in The Midnight Clubis in the eyes of the teenagers called to face too quickly the chilling dilemma that awaits everyone in the afterlife, and Flanagan describes it a setting that is only frightening in appearanceusing it delicately to weave – once again, as has already happened since Hill House onwards – a much more intimate and emotional plot than might have been expected.

From Hill House to The Midnight Club: the evolution of Mike Flanagan