Timothy Hutton as Hugh Crain, Victoria Pedretti as Nell Crain, and Carla Gugino as Olivia Crain in The Haunting of Hill House

There’s a Very Human Reason Why Mike Flanagan’s Horror Shows Succeed

If you’ve been perusing the Netflix homepage for a good horror TV show to binge, then you must have come across the handful of mini series written and directed by the well-known Mike Flanagan.

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Since 2018, Flanagan has made his mark on Netflix’s original content scene through his work on various horror shows like The Haunting of Hill House, The Haunting of Bly Manor, Midnight Mass, and The Midnight Club. And his latest project, The Fall of the House of Usher, is set to hit the platform shortly.

Even though the idea of a show based in the horror genre is not new, Flanagan’s work has really shown what a scary show can be because his shows don’t just focus on the scares. Don’t get me wrong; some of the shows are scary as hell, but at their core, the jump scares and loud noises are not what make a Flanagan show. What sets his work apart is the fact that he focuses more on people and the human condition, the scariest thing of all.

Flanagan wants his shows to scare your heart, not just your eyes

When The Haunting of Hill House first premiered in 2018, the trailers made it look like it was a run of the mill horror show about a family that moves into a haunted house. However, when it debuted, it was plain to see the show was much, much more than that. See, Hill House is about a family living in a haunted house, but it’s also about loss, love, addiction, control, perception, forgiveness, and working through tragedy to find your family again.

The Crains all represent something we can find inside of ourselves, whether it’s Steven finally believing in his siblings, Theo learning to trust someone, or the kids forgiving their father for their mother’s death. It’s that human spirit within the show that’s the scariest part of all, not the ghosts hidden in every frame. Flanagan is able to make his audiences feel raw and human in a way not a lot of other shows do.

And that feeling was just intensified by his second outing, The Haunting of Bly Manor. Now, I’m a bit biased here because Bly Manor is my favorite project Flanagan has ever made. It follows an American au pair as she works at an English estate looking after two children who lost their parents. This show has a lot of scary elements (the Lady of the Lake still sends chills up my spine), but it’s the relationships and bonds within the nine episodes that really get to you.

Whether it’s watching the main two love stories fall apart because of tragedy, learning the children’s parents were lost due to a careless mistake, or seeing family torn apart due to jealousy and greed, it’s hard to watch because it’s real; you may not have seen a ghostly man in your window, but you may have witnessed someone close to you live in an abusive relationship you couldn’t talk them out of. Now that’s scarier than any ghost story.

Flanagan is not the first horror TV director to center his stories around people, but he is one of the only ones who do it in such a way that you sometimes forget you’re watching a horror series until something jumps out of the darkness to scare the crap out of you.

At the end of the day, sometimes you want to see a real human story onscreen in between the ghosts and jump scares, instead of sitting through two hours of guts and gore, because real life is something we all have to reckon with at the end of the day. When you turn off a Flanagan project, you’re left with a lingering sense of dread because these themes, ideas, and stories are something you could go through.

Somehow, Flanagan has managed to bottle up the scariest parts of being human and put them into some of the best episodes of television ever put to screen. What a blessing and a curse.

(featured image: Netflix)

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Kayla Harrington
Kayla Harrington (she/her) is a staff writer who has been working in digital media since 2017, starting at Mashable before moving to BuzzFeed and now here at The Mary Sue. She specializes in Marvel (Wanda Maximoff did nothing wrong!), pop culture, and politics. When she's not writing or lurking on TikTok, you can find Kayla reading the many unread books on her shelves or cuddling with one of her four pets. She's also a world class chef (according to her wife) and loves to try any recipe she can find.