“OCULUS” director talks his follow-up frightfest “SOMNIA” and beyond
A rapidly rising talent on the horror scene, director Mike Flanagan has followed up his indie favorite ABSENTIA with the equally praised OCULUS (pictured), which just had its U.S. premiere at SXSW ahead of its theatrical release in April. Fango got some exclusive words with Flanagan on his next chiller, SOMNIA, and what he has coming after that.
This film reunited Flanagan with co-writer Jeff Howard and producer Trevor Macy from OCULUS, opening April 11 from Relativity Media, which centers on two siblings struggling with a malevolent force contained within an ornate mirror (see review here). SOMNIA features the biggest cast the director has yet worked with, including genre regular Thomas Jane, BLACK ROCK’s Kate Bosworth, Annabeth Gish, Dash Mihok and young actors Kyla Deaver (from THE CONJURING) and Jacob Tremblay, along with ABSENTIA’s Courtney Bell and Justin Gordon. “It wrapped just before Christmas, and we’re just getting into scoring and visual effects,” Flanagan tells Fango. “The first cut is done and looking very good so far, and I’m excited to get it out into the world. The story is about a couple whose young son drowned several years before. They cannot have more children, so they’ve decided to become foster parents in an effort to repair their marriage and move on with their lives. They bring in a foster child who’s an orphan, and just the sweetest, smartest, most polite, wonderful little boy in the world—kind of the opposite of the scary-movie kid.
“The one quirk about him is that he refuses to go to sleep at night, and they realize very quickly that the reason why is because whatever he dreams about will physically manifest in the space around him. Initially, that’s a beautiful thing, but that changes very quickly when he sees a photograph of their son, and one night he goes to sleep and they see a projection of their dead child standing in the room with them. So while it is sort of a fantastic horror movie, at its core it’s an exploration of parental grief, and trying to move on from tragedy that you can’t ever reconcile. Themes like that have been really important to me, going all the way back to ABSENTIA, which was about processing loss in a way we can never really understand, and the horror elements are all just metaphoric expressions of that.”
One of those fantastical elements, Flanagan reveals, is a creature that was realized practically by Bruce Larson, who also constructed OCULUS’ malevolent mirror. “Bruce was up against a lot of special effects artists with a lot more experience in the genre, and his design was superior,” Flanagan says. “We’d already developed a shorthand and a trust on OCULUS, so we hired Bruce to handle the effects for SOMNIA, and they came out really, really beautiful.”
While he appreciated the comfort level that came from working with past collaborators on SOMNIA, Flanagan was also excited to guide the new faces in front of his camera. “I’ve been a fan of Thomas Jane for so long, and THE MIST is one of my all-time favorite horror films,” he says. “The sense of coming from a microbudget world, where my cast is usually comprised of my friends and family, into an environment where I’m working with people I revere and whose work I’ve been following, in some cases since I was very young, was a very strange transition. It’s been so much fun, and I had to kind of pinch myself on a daily basis during production and remind myself that this was all really happening.
“It’s been a dream working with even our supporting actors, like Annabeth Gish and Dash Mihok. I’ve been a huge fan of Dash’s since THE THIN RED LINE, which I saw in college and was blown away by. It comes with its own challenges and benefits, because they’re used to working on a level I’m not at yet. I’m used to working with a rubber band and a paper clip to make a movie, and Kate Bosworth was in SUPERMAN RETURNS, one of the biggest productions you’re ever gonna see. So it’s been exciting to merge the worlds of big Hollywood production and that down-in-the-trenches independent spirit I come from, and so far I’ve found that the actors I’ve been lucky enough to work with have been very excited to come down into that world.”
Last week, Flanagan announced his next genre venture, DIVER, which he tells Fango “has a really cool FLATLINERS and INCEPTION vibe to it.” Beyond that, he has a “straight-up sci-fi” project on tap, “which would be really fun for me, because it has some timeline play that would be a blast. I love non-linear storytelling, and that time-travel aspect lends itself to a labyrinthine story structure, which is really cool for me. They’re both with Trevor Macy, who I plan on working with again and again and again as long as he’ll have me.” Look for much more from Flanagan on OCULUS in Fango #332, on sale later this month.