I don’t think I’m being hyperbolic when I say that Mike Flanagan is among the best – if not the best – directors currently working in horror.
And you likely noticed that “Mike Flanagan” isn’t either Guillermo Del Toro, James Wan or Andy Muschietti.
And that’s because Del Toro – while never far from the monsters he loves – has begun to move into other genres and despite a great eye for detail, cinematography and genre you’ll never quite know what type of film he’ll be working on next. It might be comicbook-tinged horror like Blade II (2002) or the giant robot versus kaiju action of Pacific Rim (2013). Or maybe his creative instincts will drive him toward the Gothic Romance genre and Crimson Peak (2015) or fantasy and science fiction with horror elements like Hellboy (2004) or Pan’s Labyrinth (2006),
James Wan, truth be told, is a bit of a poser in the sense that his horror films tend to be more concerned with stylistic elements less than horror movies in and of themselves.
And that’s fine if you like your horror a bit on the mild side – in fact, I’d argue Saw is the only real horror film he’s every directed. The Conjuring movies are fine, but the followups are typically too cliched to make a ripple.
Which brings me to Annabelle (2014) – which I think proves my point why Wan isn’t a horror director of any esteem (So does The Nun (2018), which I stopped watching because it’s like horror for people that like it as simplistic and cliched as possible. And while Wan didn’t direct that film, he did executive produce it).
The image above is the doll from Annabelle – the “actual” possessed doll was a Raggedy Ann – and it’s hideous! So much so that no child in their right mind ever want to sleep with it, never mind keep it.
In fact, it’s hideousness is what makes it such a ridiculous choice. In my experience fear works best with a little subtlety and I think it’s safe to assume Wan okayed it for it’s obviousness.
It leaves nothing to the imagination and as I already mentioned, is insultingly hideous.
Andy Muschietti (Mama, IT, IT, Chapter 2) came into the public eye with the latter film, which was produced by Guillermo Del Toro.
Since Mama Muschietti is at best uneven and typically over-reliant of CGI to generate scares.
Which brings me to Mike Flanagan. If you’ve seen movies like Ouija: Origin of Evil, Oculus, Doctor Sleep or The Haunting of Hill House (on Netlflix) you’ve likely noticed that he is a firm believer in strong storytelling, nuanced characters and scares that aren’t typically of the ‘jump’ variety.
So, when I learned that there was a film of his that I haven’t yet seen, Absentia, I made it my business to complete my education, so to speak.
The movie is from 2011 and you can see the stylistic techniques that Flanagan would refine and employ in his later features.
Though as I said, this was an earlier film, though even taking that into account it’s curiously uncinematic.
In fact, as I mention in my video, it looks like an above-average student film in the way it was shot.
And I don’t mean that to be interpreted as an insult, though the budget of Absentia couldn’t have been much (relatively speaking, of course).
Though I noticed something else a bit more vexing, depending upon how you feel about such things, namely the story is virtually exactly the same as They (2002).
And I’m not saying Flanagan copied his story – after all, there are differences – though it’s for the most part the same.
And when you take into account it’s look as well as it’s too familiar story it makes Absentia worth seeing only if you’re a person that likes to see as much of the work of a particular director as possible.
Otherwise I’d recommend you catch They because it’s a better looking – just plain better – movie that tells a similar story better, with more effectively realized antagonists.
Absentia is currently on Amazon.