This week, The Fall of the House of Usher arrives on Netflix, marking the end of a particularly creative era in the career of horror writer-director Mike Flanagan. Since the release of Hush in 2016, Flanagan has been putting out increasingly ambitious feature films and, more prominently, horror miniseries for the streaming giant, making his name as one of the genre’s preeminent voices and earning legions of fans for his increasingly large cast of stock players, including Henry Thomas, Kate Siegel, Rahul Kohli, and more.
Now, Flanagan heads off to a new deal at Amazon, where he’s working on arguably even more ambitious projects like Stephen King’s The Dark Tower. Before we examine what happens for Flanagan next, though, it feels like a good time to stop and take stock of what’s already happened. So, in honor of the end of a Mike Flanagan era and the debut of The Fall of the House of Usher, we’re ranking every Flanagan project so far, from his indie debut to his latest Netflix horrorfest.
Flanagan’s feature directorial debut, about two sisters who must navigate a mysterious disappearance and its possibly supernatural origins, plays like a stereotypical low-budget effort in many ways, but there are already plenty of signs that the filmmaker is onto something big. Sure, it looks cheaper than what he’ll do with Netflix money, but many of the Flanagan hallmarks are there from the jump: Meditations on grief, sobriety, and faith mix with subtle ghost-story scares and, of course, the mystery of a particular place with a dark underbelly. It’s Flanagan Version 0.1, but even in this stripped-down form, you can see the greatness emerging. Plus, it still packs one of the most brutal endings Flanagan has ever mustered, and that’s really saying something.
Before I Wake (2016)
The story of a boy (Jacob Tremblay) with a curious ability to make his dreams into temporary tactile reality, Before I Wake is a classic example of the kind of emotional horror that’s won Flanagan so many fans. It’s a bit more off-balance than some of his other efforts, and the tone veers into dark fantasy more than horror for much of the run time, but it’s hard to deny the particular spell the film casts. Of course, if you’re going to dig so deep into a child’s psyche, it certainly helps to have a star like Tremblay along for the ride.
Ouija: Origin of Evil (2016)
A rare hop into someone else’s horror franchise for Flanagan, Origin of Evil is a prequel to Ouija in which the filmmaker was given free rein to basically do whatever he wanted to with the Ouija-board premise. He took that freedom to heart and then some. With a cast led by Flanagan mainstays like Elizabeth Reaser, Lulu Wilson, and Henry Thomas, Origin of Evil takes the Ouija idea and melds its ghost-story potential with the saga of a struggling family just trying to find their way through their own grief. It’s a story Flanagan excels at, and while he may do it better in other projects, it’s still gripping in this one.
The Midnight Club (2022)
Flanagan’s ode to the literary work of teen horror legend Christopher Pike, The Midnight Club thrives on the barbs, emotions, and pure teen angst of its young cast, including standouts Iman Benson and Ruth Codd alongside living horror legend Heather Langenkamp. When it’s a story about young people just trying to survive another day with terminal illness using horror stories as their own personal therapy, it’s thrilling and even moving. When it’s trying to build a bigger mythology, it doesn’t always work quite as well. It’s the weakest of Flanagan’s Netflix shows, but that’s not too bad a rank when the highs are this high.
Flanagan’s love for telling parallel stories in the past and the present might not have peaked with Oculus, but it is the first time audiences got a chance to see how his nonlinear approach to horror worked, and even in this early effort, it works very well. A classic cursed-object horror film about a haunted mirror and its impact on two generations of a family, Oculus is perhaps best remembered as that movie where Karen Gillan bites a lightbulb (it was in every trailer, so even if you didn’t see the film, you saw that), but there’s so much more here than gory tricks. Flanagan’s emotional range was already showing in this very early effort and would only grow from here.
Gerald’s Game (2017)
Mike Flanagan has only made two Stephen King projects so far, but even with that short résumé he’s already considered one of the best filmmakers to adapt the master of horror fiction. Why? Well, it helps if you pick a novel many people considered unadaptable to launch your King movie career, then knock your adaptation out of the park. Anchored by Carla Gugino’s remarkable central performance and packed with haunting imagery, Gerald’s Game takes one of King’s most experimental books and makes a gripping, unsettling feature out of it. Flanagan could have stopped right here and still been one of the best King filmmakers ever. Lucky for us, he didn’t.
The Fall of the House of Usher (2023)
Flanagan’s final Netflix series has everything his other shows for the streamer have — long, eloquent monologues, a massive ensemble cast, and a production design you want to get lost in — but it also packs something different. For all its focus on character and emotion, The Fall of the House of Usher is, in many ways, just plain gnarly. In its quest to show us the downfall of a legendary pharmaceutical family, the show grows increasingly devious and blackhearted even as it never loses a central earnestness, and that makes it a blast to watch.
Flanagan’s breakthrough year came in 2016, when he released three different horror features over the course of 12 months. All three are memorable, but Hush remains the best. Co-written by and starring Flanagan’s wife, the great Kate Siegel, Hush is a home-invasion thriller that never runs out of ways to twist the knife, literally and figuratively, on its intrepid and resourceful protagonist. The opening chords of the horror are chilling, and by the end it’s all crescendoed into a symphony of pain, survival, and heart.
The Haunting of Bly Manor (2020)
The second literary-remix miniseries to come out of Flanagan’s deal at Netflix, Bly Manor takes us to another beautiful old house, with another unforgettable cast of characters, to tell us a story wrapped up in dozens of ghostly shades of Henry James. If The Haunting of Hill House was about the family you’re born into, then Bly Manor is about the family you choose, what you’d give to keep them alive, and how they remain even after their mortal lives are over. It’s a horror-romance for the ages, complete with scene-stealing bravado from then-new Flanagan favorite Rahul Kohli.
Doctor Sleep (2019)
With Gerald’s Game, Flanagan took a seemingly unadaptable Stephen King novel and made a very solid film. With Doctor Sleep, he simultaneously wrestled with King’s own attempts to reclaim The Shining after hating the original film and Stanley Kubrick’s towering haunted-hotel masterpiece, and made his best feature film to date. Ambitious, terrifying, and full of tremendous performances, Doctor Sleep is so much more than a sequel to The Shining. It’s a film that pays loving tribute to Flanagan’s horror influences, while blazing a beautifully realized trail of its own through a landscape of pain, grief, and, most important, healing.
Midnight Mass (2021)
Flanagan’s self-professed most personal project in his entire body of work so far, Midnight Mass brings together many of the best elements he has to offer to tell the story of an island community beset by (spoilers for a two-year-old show here) a vampire. There’s so much going for this show, from the design of the angelic vampire creature at its core to Rahul Kohli’s many different denim lewks, but in the end what makes it work is Flanagan’s trust in his own storytelling style. Packed with monologues about the meaning of life and intertwining narratives that all mesh together into a singular haunting mythology, it’s the Most Mike Flanagan thing the filmmaker has ever made.
The Haunting of Hill House (2018)
In the world of horror fiction, few titles are more sacred than Shirley Jackson’s classic haunted-house narrative. With his own The Haunting of Hill House, Mike Flanagan set out to make an adaptation that changes nearly every recognizable element of Jackson’s original story, and his enormous gamble paid off in truly jaw-dropping ways. A relentlessly intense, unflinchingly emotional look at one family’s struggle to understand itself and its trauma, The Haunting of Hill House is a modern horror masterpiece that retains the essence of Jackson’s work while giving Hill House a haunting afterlife for the ages. It’s not just Flanagan’s best work so far, but one of the best feats of horror storytelling of the past 20 years.