Interview: Mike Flanagan | OCULUS

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STARBURST: Both Absentia and Oculus can be classed as suburban horror, they both deal with the family dynamic in an unsettling way. What keeps drawing you back to this type of film?

Mike Flanagan: I had a very comfortable and safe childhood, I had a really warm and loving family and the idea of that atmosphere and those familiar surroundings being repurposed into something threatening really chills me. It resonates with me. So I do tend to be attracted to stories that feature intense familial elements. I love the bond between siblings as opposed to what the genre tends to go for a lot which is terrified teenagers, boyfriends and girlfriends and things like that. I think there's so much more humanity and honesty to be found in a sibling relationship.

There’s definitely a Mulder/Scully type relationship between the brother and sister in Oculus, are you a fan of the show? What’s your favourite episode?

I think my favourite episode of X-Files is probably Clyde Bruckman’s ‘Final Repose’… That was about an insurance salesman who would shake someone's hand and see how they were going to die. It was a really scary, moving and human episode. Peter Boyle played the salesman… I started watching X-Files when I was in 8th grade, so I was just starting high school, I would never miss it. What I loved about it so much was that it gave equal voice to the supernatural and the scientific and that was really exciting.

How did the casting of both Karen Gillan and Katee Sackhoff come about? What a couple of impressive leading ladies.

It mostly came about because I'm a huge nerd and I love Dr Who and Karen was my first choice for the movie because I loved what she did with Amy Pond… creating a funky, charismatic female protagonist who would run towards the monsters on the show. I just think that's so exciting because too often I think that genre will take women and cast them in to a role where they need to cower and scream and be terrified or slaughtered. The funniest coincidence of the whole casting process was when we first started writing the feature take of this, and first started developing the characters, the photograph we hung on the wall to get the voice we wanted was a picture of Katee Sackhoff. At the time I was a big Battlestar [Galactica] fan so we initially modelled the character on how I thought Katee Sackhoff would approach it.

We cast Karen first and we cast Katee several weeks later. When I found out she was available I got very excited and looking at the character of Marie, who can be seen as the most victim-like character in the film, it was really exciting to have an actor like Katee who would bring such a strength to it. It was something I hadn't seen her do before so when she liked the script I had my fan boy freak out moment. It was a really lovely experience working with both of them.


We hear you’re a fan of Session 9 and Lake Mungo, both of which build dread exquisitely, as does Oculus. Did they influence your filmmaking, or what does influence you?

I think everything you take in has a certain level of influence and for me more than anything that is Stephen King’s writing. So in this picture I thought a lot about The Shining as well. Session 9 influenced me quite a bit, because one of the things that movie does so well is build a sense of suffocating dread without showing anything with really clever audio work. So that movie was a real lesson for me in what you can achieve with good sound design, subtlety and minimalism. What you don't see is always going to be scarier than what you do and movies like that and Lake Mungo, I think, in a similar way were both very careful about what they showed you so when they did show you something it had maximum impact.

That's a philosophy I like to embrace in everything I do because too often the temptation to use all these bells and whistles that technology has provided can overwhelm the creative process and people can get bogged down in trying to show you so much. It's such an explicit genre and I think people are desensitised to that. It doesn't scare people the way a lot of movies hope and think it will.

Both Absentia and Oculus deal with past trauma and grief in a thoughtful and affecting way. What keeps drawing you back to these themes?

It's certainly a theme I've had a really hard time staying away from. I'm a natural born sceptic and for myself I think the ghosts and monsters in our lives come directly from our past or from our losses and that we all relate to this feeling of being haunted because in a lot of ways we all are. I think horror gives us a chance to explore that in a highly metaphorical way so I tend to tell stories where the supernatural or horror elements come from past trauma or things that are buried in the character. As opposed to being an external source like a guy with an axe, people can't really relate to being stalked by a man with an axe, we hope! It feels more honest and I hope stories like that won't evaporate once the credits roll and they'll stay with you. I think that's something all filmmakers want. The only way that can happen is if you're tapping into something human and universal.


What can you tell us about your next film, Somnia? I’m excited that it has Thomas Jane in, he was great in the Dreamcatcher adaptation…

That film is actually the most personal of the three and in its own way is hopefully the most beautiful. It deals with the heaviest sense of loss, it's about parents who have lost a child. Which I think if you talk about real horror nothing we can do can hold a candle to that.

Thomas Jane is of course in the film and in that Stephen King adaptation. Anytime they adapt his stuff I'm watching it. I thought Tom was amazing in Frank Darabont’s adaptation of The Mist. Somnia tends to skew more magical realism than outright horror and we’re trying to find the way to market the film. It's a neat movie and one of those movies that I felt for a number of years no one would ever let me make. It's a strange one. It has more in common with The Sixth Sense and Pan’s Labyrinth.


OCULUS is in UK cinemas from June 13th. Read our review by CLICKING HERE.


Find your local STARBURST stockist HERE, or buy direct from us HERE. For our digital edition (available to read on your iOS, Android, Amazon, Windows 8, Samsung and/or Huawei device - all for just £1.99), visit MAGZTER DIGITAL NEWSSTAND.



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