Of all things that came out of this year and COVID, it made me realize how strange time can be – how something some time ago can still feel fresh and new. I still remember going to the theatre I worked at with friends to go watch Oculus knowing nothing except Karen Gillan was in it. I didn’t know it would be my introduction to one of my favourite filmmakers.
In 2016, I wrote an article on The Film Queue about Mike Flanagan and my anticipation of the then upcoming Ouija: Origin of Evil. After revisiting it earlier this week, I think I might have to say that his Ouija might be the scariest film he’s put out thus far. Due to my rewatch, it made me want to revisit all of his work. Which, to be honest, could happen at any time of the year as Flanagan has constantly delivered.
The first time he delivered for me, was with Oculus. To quickly sum it up, it follows Kaylie as a 23-year old who believes that an antique mirror is responsible for the deaths that occured within her family 11 years prior. Kaylie is played by Karen Gillan who at the time had just finished her run on Doctor Who, and her brother Tim was played by Brenton Thwaites who’s currently Dick Grayson on Titans. Their parents are played by Rory Cochrane (CSI: Miami, Dazed and Confused) and Katee Sackhoff (Battlestar Galactica, Star Wars: The Clone Wars).
Oculus takes place across two different timelines, and we are constantly cutting between them. But it is done so effortlessly, that you don’t even notice when we go from one to the other. Oculus makes a super sad statement about sometimes, we literally have to relive and suffer from our own trauma over and over again. But I believe that Mike Flanagan to be a bit more hopeful than that, which is why every other of his films are way more hopeful. And Oculus is his saddest film.
There are a lot of moments in Oculus that remind me of his future projects. And in this, I’ve also realized that it’s wonderful to see a filmmaker know their style so early, as well as the themes they love to cover. As his projects continue, you begin to see the overlapping more clearly. For example, the white eyes for ghosts have been consistent from his films. There’s a moment in which Marie (Sackhoff) chases young Kaylie, and it’s reminiscent of the first episode of The Haunting of Hill House, when Olivia chases younger Steven. The big peeling skin scene in Gerald’s Game also gets re-used in Doctor Sleep. If big directors like Quentin Tarantino are constantly stealing from older filmmakers, I love that Flanagan is stealing from himself. And improves on it.
The truth is, Oculus is my favourite film of his, until I watch another. Mike Flanagan has constantly impressed me from one film to the next, while always staying true to both his style and his themes. He loves working with past cast members and dealing with personal trauma. He understands that sometimes, the scariest things in films come from ourselves, and people rather than ghosts. Yet, he makes those pretty terrifying too. Its story first – then fill the gaps with scares. That’s why people who don’t love horror (looking at you Arianne) still love and appreciate Mike Flanagan. He’s converting people into horror fanatics, and honestly, I’m here for it.