Tuesday, June 28, 2016


I recently had the pleasure of interviewing the great up-and-coming horror director, Mike Flanagan, who brought us films such as Oculus, Hush, and the upcoming Ouija: Origin of Evil.  He's a super talented individual and is one you'll be hearing more and more from in the coming years.  In our interview, he talks about his most recent film, Hush, his take on the Ouija franchise, the Halloween reboot rumors, and more.

So check out the interview below for all the details.  Enjoy!

MERC WITH A MOVIE BLOG:  First of all, I'd like to say thank you for taking the time to answer my questions.  Why don't you start off by telling our fans a little about yourself.  Where you're from, what got you into filmmaking, that sort of thing.

MIKE FLANAGAN:  Growing up in Maryland, I was that kid who liked to make VHS movies in the backyard. It took me over a decade to break into the industry, and I'm currently making a living doing what I love the most... I'm basically just a very lucky kid from the East Coast.

MERC:  Have you always been a horror fan, and if so, what films and directors inspired you?

MF:  I was terrified to watch horror movies as a kid. But I read a lot of books, and I am a rabid Stephen King fan. His work really shaped my understanding of horror. When I finally did get around to watching horror films, the films that inspired me were pretty much the same films that inspired most people who work in the genre. THE EXORCIST, THE THING, THE FLY, THE SHINING, THE CHANGELING. All of those. I also had a real affinity for Hitchcock movies growing up.

MERC:  I recently watched, and reviewed, your new film, Hush, which I really enjoyed.  I loved that you took a classic genre (home invasion) and threw in a really interesting twist with the main character being deaf.  What was your thought process behind this decision?

MF:  I'd always wanted to experiment with a film that didn't have dialog, and Kate Siegel and I both loved WAIT UNTIL DARK. We didn't really see the deaf aspect as being a twist, more of a fun and challenging character detail. It really amped up the suspense for both of us, and it allowed for some fascinating sound design. Ultimately it added a lot, both to the character herself and to the atmosphere of the film.

MERC:  Your previous films, Absentia and Oculus (which I loved), and your upcoming release, Before I Wake (which was made back in 2013 under the name Somnia), have all utilized a supernatural element.  Hush is the first to break away from that.  What was the reason for the subgenre shift?

MF:  That isn't really something that I think about... whether a story is supernatural or not (or, whether it's even a horror story or not) isn't that important to me. It was easier to tell a supernatural horror story early in my career, just because they're easier to sell. But I'd argue that BEFORE I WAKE isn't even a horror movie, although it does have a strong supernatural element. 

I approach every project simply from the perspective of character. If I think the characters are interesting and real, and if I feel like the movie has something to say outside of its genre elements, I'm interested. Whether those stories are supernatural or not, or even whether they are in the horror genre or not, isn't something I really care about. In fact, I'm hoping very soon to be making films outside of the genre. I'll always come back to it, because I love horror, but I also have a six year old son and I'd love to make movies that he'd enjoy. 

MERC:  When I first heard about Hush, the premise really intrigued me.  So, I was pretty bummed when I found out it wouldn't be in theaters.  Tells us about the decision to go with Netflix and VOD.

MF:  The short answer to that question is that Netflix made a better offer than the theatrical options. We had several options for distribution, including some theatrical options, but Netflix was more exciting on a few levels in this case. I also really liked the idea of people discovering the film and watching it alone in their homes. A film like HUSH plays great with an audience, but it also plays really well if you're home alone, and there's a dark window near your TV. 

I also think that some of the more experimental elements of the movie would have been harder to embrace in a wide theatrical release. Audiences watching a film on Netflix might think it's neat that film doesn't have more than ten minutes of dialog, but audiences in a multiplex might feel differently. The wider the release, the more pressure there is to make the film appealing to a much wider audience, which inevitably means that the more unique aspects of a film are suddenly up for discussion.

Also, I think more people watched the film as a result of it being on Netflix than would have if it was released more traditionally. That first month, there was an overwhelming amount of social media exposure as people found the film and passed it on to their friends. The results were immediate - people tweeted about the movie, raving about it, and their friends were able to hit Netflix and watch it instantly. I think a lot of those people wouldn't have gone out to theaters to seek out the film based on a tweet, and I also think their expectations would have been a bit different. Ultimately, I think it was the best move for this film.

Netflix is a really exciting platform - they're changing the industry. I think it's a really cool way to get a film directly to its audience immediately, and I'm excited to look for more opportunities to work with Netflix.

MERC:  You co-wrote this film with the star, Kate Siegel, who is also your wife.  How was the experience working with her as a writer and directing her in the film?  Were you looking for a project to do together or did you come up with the premise first?

MF:  A lot of people don't realize that Kate and I weren't married when we made the film (in fact, we didn't get married until February 2016, a year after we filmed it and about a month before it premiered at SXSW). We had also worked together before - Kate was in OCULUS as well, back in 2012. But truly, the experience was terrific.

We were dating when we came up with HUSH. It wasn't that we were looking for a project, there wasn't an agenda. We were just out having dinner and talking about movies we both liked, and we got to talking about WAIT UNTIL DARK. Kate said she was always nervous looking out the sliding glass doors in our bedroom, because she wondered what would happen if someone was standing outside. I said I'd always wanted to make a film without dialog. Before we finished the meal, we had most of the movie figured out.

It was a real pleasure to work with Kate, both in writing the film and in production, and we figured that the experience would either make us closer than ever or tear us violently apart. After it went so well, getting married was a no-brainer.

MERC:  In the film, we see the killer, played by the talented John Gallagher Jr., remove his mask early on, something you rarely ever see in these types of films.  What made you decide to go that route?

MF:  That's one of the most controversial aspects of the movie. Some people complain that they wish he kept it on longer. I think it's great that people find the mask so scary - but I don't think they realize that it's scary factor would only decrease the longer it was on screen. Also, I want to make decisions like that based on the characters, not on what typically happens in the genre. And in this case, there was simply no reason for him to leave it on any longer. 

In fact, Maddie was holding out hope that she might be able to get out of the situation because she hadn't seen his face. That was a bargaining chip she wanted to lay out for him. In showing his face, he's saying "now you've seen it, and now there's no way out of this alive." This is a guy who gets off on terrifying his victims, and in that moment, he robs her of hope. That's far more terrifying to her than the mask was. 

I think it's great people like the mask so much, but if we'd left it on any longer, the movie would have hit a serious speed bump and they would have started complaining that the story was getting repetitive and boring. And it just wouldn't have made sense from a character perspective.

MERC:  Moving on to some of your future projects, I have a question about Ouija 2.  The first Ouija film was a bit of a disappointment for me, but now that you're taking over as director for the sequel, what can you tell us about how you're going to put your own spin on it and make it better?

MF:  I think there's a lot of healthy skepticism about OUIJA 2. I was skeptical when they asked me to do it - I wasn't a fan of the first either. But there's something very freeing about that - I truly believe you should never, ever attempt to make a sequel to something you can't improve. I was given a lot of freedom, and we didn't need to be beholden to the first movie, so it was a great challenge to come in and try to change the way people perceive an existing franchise. 

A lot of people complained about OUIJA for the same reason they complain about a lot of horror movies that are rated PG-13. But to me, that's another positive - don't teenagers deserve good scary movies too? When I was younger, there were some great horror films that didn't lean on the gore and violence that the "hardcore" horror fans seem to want these days. POLTERGEIST, THE CHANGELING, SOMETHING WICKED THIS WAY COMES - these were great movies. Why don't today's teenagers get those? Why do they get such paint-by-numbers horror movies? 

So yeah, I thought it was a great opportunity to make the kind of horror movie that first got me interested in horror movies when I was younger. The movie is truly a throw-back, from the script to the antique lenses I insisted on using. Mainstream horror fans have all the violence and gore they could possibly want; it was a pleasure to make a good, old fashioned, scary movie that everyone could enjoy. 

Check out the trailer for Ouija 2: Origin of Evil

MERC:  It's also been reported that you're in talks to take on the directing duties for the upcoming Halloween reboot/sequel being produced by creator John Carpenter.  What can you tell us about this?  Has anything been made official?

MF:  Ah yes... internet rumors can be a blast. That was reported within a day of Blumhouse first announcing they were doing the movie at all, and Adam Wingard was also reported that same day, I believe... 

I'm sure they were discussing quite a lot of filmmakers as possible candidates, and I'm beyond excited to see what Blumhouse does with the franchise. Having Carpenter on board is a real sign that they respect the material and intend to do it right, and I'm excited to see the results. 

As for me, I feel in a lot of ways like I already made my "masked killer" movie with HUSH. I don't really know what, if anything, I could bring to that franchise, and I think there are more exciting names being talked about now. Frankly, I'd be more excited to see an Adam Wingard HALLOWEEN movie. 

MERC:  Finally, other than Ouija 2, are there any upcoming projects you can share with us?

MF:  There's been a huge amount of incoming projects since HUSH was released, and I haven't yet decided what will be next. In the long-term, I'm really anxious to get my adaptation of Stephen King's GERALD'S GAME on its feet. I'm also really anxious to get into television, so I'm exploring some options there right now. I'm hoping to figure out what's next and will announce it as soon as I know! 

I want to thank Mr. Flanagan for taking the time to answer my questions.  Be sure to follow him on Twitter (@flanaganfilm) and check out his website (www.mikeflanaganfilm.com) for more info.

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