Almost every year since Netflix debuted The Haunting Of Hill House in 2018—exactly four years ago on October 12—the streaming service has treated horror fans to new Halloween-timed projects from Mike Flanagan. In rapid succession, the writer, director, and series creator has delivered The Haunting Of Bly Manor (2020), Midnight Mass (2021), and The Midnight Club (2022). His take on The Fall Of The House Of Usher is scheduled to arrive on Netflix in 2023.
Each of the shows in this burgeoning Flanaverse explores terror in ways that are both grandly supernatural and intrinsically personal. And while Flanagan may have launched his genre career with films like Absentia, Hush, and Gerald’s Game (also streaming on Netflix), it’s in the episodic space that he has found his true calling.
Flanagan’s version of horror isn’t all about jump scares and gory thrills (not that those aren’t spectacularly fun to witness, of course). Rather, his shows capture the emotional toll that fear can take on a person, a family, and a community—all while presenting plenty of ghosts, shadowy creatures, and other things that go bump in the night. Each of Flanagan’s Netflix shows shares some common threads, including creepy basements, otherworldly interferences, familial trauma, and evocative relationships. Yet, each one is thematically distinctive.
Hill House, Bly Manor, and The Midnight Club boast elaborate set pieces for a haunted house motif. In Hill House, we confront the Crain family’s turbulent experiences at their childhood home, and their inability to let go of attachments. Bly Manor, meanwhile, hones in on the fear of losing yourself, your loved ones, or your memories, and features a nuanced romance between Dani (Victoria Pedretti) and Jamie (Amelia Eve). Midnight Mass is a gruesome and philosophical undertaking about the strength of faith and paranoia of religion (er, to put it mildly).
The Midnight Club, the newest entry in the Flanaverse, is less outright scary but retains the auteur’s penchant for ruminating over mortality and legacy. The show centers on young adults living in hospice care and explores whether anything is as terrifying to them as their terminal illness. They seek an escape by swapping dark stories (inspired by more of Christopher Pike’s work) and making a pact that whenever one of them dies, that person will send a signal from the afterlife. Dying can’t be totally pointless; after all, there has to be something, anything, that exists after fading to black. Netflix’s “Flanaverse” exists to explore exactly that.
The Midnight Club’s thesis is that the teens in hospice share scary stories, so Flanagan’s ever-reliable cast and crew get to flex their muscles within the horror genre. A doomsday event, a serial killer, witches, evil doppelgangers, a nighttime road trip gone wrong, a black-and-white murder mystery—TMC depicts it all and is mostly successful.
Credit for this goes to an ensemble that’s up for anything, a key element of Flanagan’s playbook. He builds on the talent of his frequent collaborators to bring out the best of their craft. Kate Siegel, for instance, delivers a masterful performance as Theo in Hill House (Her work in Hush is equally magnetic). Samantha Sloyan has worked in Hill House and TMC but is a revelation (no pun intended) as Midnight Mass’ Bev Keane. Zach Gilford, Rahul Kohli, Carla Gugino, Annabeth Gish, Alex Essoe, and Henry Thomas are like Flanaverse’s Avengers. And, yes, several young TMC actors, many of whom are newcomers, will appear in The Fall Of The House Of Usher.
Flanagan’s music composers, The Newton Brothers, and cinematographer Michael Fimognari, who’ve worked with him on almost all the projects, provide additional layers to the Flanaverse. Their work makes Hill House, Bly Manor, Midnight Mass, and The Midnight Club feel oddly connected (with plenty of Easter eggs to boot). The shows are visually and stylistically bonded, but carry a unique brand of poignancy and spookiness. The shows aren’t flawless, and might not appeal to everyone, but there’s no denying that it’s easy to derive meaning from all of them. Flanagan has emerged as a creative genius with a poetic grasp of the genre. There are no skips in the Flanaverse just yet, and that’s a win for us all (and mostly for Netflix too).