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Part 5: The Future"KING" - Mike Flanagan’s Heavy Sentimentalism and Trauma Orientated Stories Make Him
The Perfect Director to Adapt Stephen King

By Ana Peres  May 23, 2024 

Be it Pennywise´s ominous lurking presence or the endless hallways of The Overlook Hotel, Stephen King has been considered the king of horror for decades for a reason: he is a master at scaring the reader. Terrifying generations with only their imagination and impactful words on the page is hard, but what proved over time to be
even harder is adapting these creations to the big and small screen.

 

To take such iconic scenarios and characters is not easy, and many fail to do so. However, King´s stories are more than just scary even if they are quite effective in the horror aspect. The slow pace and ultimate dread the author builds up to the very climax of the novel, combined with the dark and violent storylines, demand a carefully crafted adaptation to the cinema for it to work.


Mike Flanagan has been consistently producing series and movies in the horror genre for years now. The filmmaker said that he was inspired to pursue a directing career after reading King's short story, 1408. He moved to California with the intent of
partaking in The Dollar Baby Program. In the program, King granted permission for aspiring filmmakers and students to adapt his work for $1. Flanagan soon learned that the story wasn't available and decided to make his directorial debut, Oculus.

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Flanagan is one of the few directors who are cherished for his King adaptations, not only by fans but also by the author himself (who has proved to be quite hard to please). And that's not surprising once you revisit Flanagan's original stories: they have fundamentally similar themes to King's. Creating an exciting tale that is emotionally heavy and still entertaining to watch and makes the viewer sit on the edge of their seat demands excellent effort from the creator behind it. Flanagan's unsettling long static scenes, many in wide shots (so that the viewer is constantly checking to see if something, or someone, moved in the background), showcase how much he knows the technique behind creating atmosphere and his lifelong love for the genre.


Grief, trauma, and violence are in almost every Mike Flanagan story. Even the ones he adapts, which are an important part of his work, the director infuses with these themes and brings them to the forefront. With decades of experience, Flanagan knows how to masterly portray internal dread and combine it with the occasional and extremely effective jumpscare. Addiction, which is a struggle both horror storytellers suffered from, is at the center of one of Flanagan's great works, Midnight Mass. How one copes with the trauma they suffer and inflicted, especially in a religious background, creates a somber atmosphere that is bathed in blood in the best way possible. It is not so different from King's first novel, Carrie, about a troubled teen with a religious-driven mother.


The sixth episode in the The Haunting of Hill House has a 17-minute single take that is impossible to forget for the sheer mastery of the production aspect, especially set design and the directorial skill necessary to make it happen. The superb emotional writing also stands out as the Crain family attends a funeral of one of their own and recollects a similar stormy night that happened a long time ago. The entire episode is essentially composed of five long single take scenes - an outstanding feat.

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Flanagan and King's stories go beyond trying to be scary: the viewer and reader deeply relate to the characters. Their struggles feel personal and real, and their complicated dynamic with others, but most importantly to themselves, all add to the
sense that they are real people going through something. One of the biggest problems with scary stories is that they are too worried about jumpscares rather than spending time developing the characters and making the audience care for them. Simply crossing a street can be horrifying if the viewer cares enough for the character who is doing it -and if a bus with an inattentive driver is set up coming their way.

 

The filmmakers' projects are never only about the scary stuff. From the gothic love tale in his take on The Haunting of Bly Manor that made many cry to the satirical, societal commentary that didn't take away from the horror and violence of the family curse in The Fall of the House of Usher. Just like the author, Flanagan's unique characters drive the narrative - and they happen to come across some horrifying stuff.


The director stepped into the big role of continuing one of the most iconic stories of all time in cinema and literature alike: The Shining. Addiction and trauma are intertwined with ghosts and the past in Doctor Sleep, as the audience sees what
happened to Danny after he left the hotel. Even if it wasn't a box office hit, the author and fans deeply appreciated Flanagan's care for the prequel - as well as honoring the first and second books. The scary scenes are haunting and bring the audience back to the infamous Overlook Hotel in a fresh but nostalgic way, making them partake in Danny's experience.

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It is clear how the filmmaker doesn't shy away from a challenge. Even when it means to shoot an one hour and a half film in basically one location and with a character that can't move. His adaptation of Gerald's Game is an incredible and underrated movie that aspiring thriller filmmakers should watch. The pace doesn't drop, and it continues to escalate, even if the character is as passive as she can be: handcuffed to a bed with her dead husband on the floor next to her.

 

Mike Flanagan is a superb director and writer and will go down in history as a prominent horror filmmaker. He finished the production of another short story from the king of horror, The Life of Chuck, into a feature film. The story is about a man who goes back in time and revisits his life after death, and it couldn't have been a better choice for
the director. But that's not the end of their collaboration. With Prime Video, the much-awaited adaptation of The Dark Tower will be made, and there is no doubt Flanagan will make the fans and the author happy by doing justice to this beloved series that many have considered unfilmable for a long time.

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Ana Peres is a 23-year-old writer from Brazil. She has an associate degree in Creative Writing and two additional certificates, one in Screenwriting and one in Film Production from a local university. Ana recently graduated from UCLA's Professional Program in Writing for Television. She is currently being mentored by screenwriter Ben Johnson, Jr., an opportunity she won after a competitive application process. She has taken screenwriting courses at Vancouver Film School and Sundance Collab. Ana participated in writing workshops with big names in the horror industry, including Jeff Howard (Haunting of Hill House) and the Hayes Brothers (The Conjuring).

Ana's directorial debut, micro short film, Happy New Year, was selected as a Bumper for this year´s Portland Horror Film Festival.

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