Mike Flanagan is a filmmaker who, in my opinion, has consistently turned in efforts into the horror genre that I’ve yet to find disappointing. With this latest show from the creative behind The Haunting of Hill House and The Haunting of Bly Manor (among other works), here is yet again a heart-wrenching and gut-wrenching slice of terror. It’s the kind of honest and raw storytelling that I love.
Never underestimate a small town’s potential of becoming a perfect scenario for horror. The claustrophobic geographical setting, the limited social interaction and the boredom are usually the perfect recipe for disaster with the right (and wicked) push. However, in the new Netflix’s limited series, Midnight Mass (2021), the road to literal hell is paved with good intentions, even the ones that are apparently backed up by religion. Painfully slow at the beginning but totally worth it at the end, the new Mike Flanagan’s show offers a tragic take on how human hearts can be just as beautiful as destructive depending on our choices.
How exactly did Midnight Mass fare in the eyes of our two reviewers, Dustin and Javiera? Let’s find out with this dual review of the most trending horror show right now!
What is it About?
Created and directed by Mike Flanagan, Midnight Mass is a 2021 horror-drama series. In it, an isolated island community experiences miraculous events – and frightening omens – after the arrival of a charismatic, mysterious young priest. Midnight Mass follows the story this small community in Crockett island that’s an ever intriguing locale. Only a shadow of what it was before thanks to industrialization, people are constantly looking for a miracle to ease their problems. Religion suddenly seems to become the answer to this plight when a new priest named Paul Hill (Hamish Linklater) arrives. Charismatic and, above all, enigmatic, the health of many islanders improves by what it seems the sheer power of faith.
However, not everyone is convinced. One of them is Riley Flynn (Zach Gilford), a disgraced young man whose involvement in an accidental death has rendered him cynic towards religion. Still, it seems that Hill methods are suspicious not only from an atheist perspective. Weird supernatural events and unnatural healing raises suspicion among other residents, reluctant to fall in mindless and potentially dangerous religious fervor.
To be honest, everything in the show worked for me. What is decidedly top-tier for me, though, is the character development. Almost all of the cast is fleshed out to the fullest and given room to say their piece through monologues and speeches to other characters. Normally, I actually prefer films and shows that are more focused on characters’ feelings being explored through silent expressions and cinematography. However, in Midnight Mass the long dialogue just works. Mr. Flanagan has further solidified himself as the cinematic Stephen King by making the characters just as important as the scares.
In Midnight Mass, we’re treated to a large cast, and each performer was able to give each resident of Crockett Island personalities that stand out. While the show ultimately has a clear antagonist, the main cast is explored as humanly possible. Some characters are good people, some are bad, and some are just about in between.
In the show, the scares don’t come cheap as Mike Flanagan and his team create an eerie atmosphere that’s all at once cozy and creepy. Crockett Island feels like a place with a tight knit community and welcoming vibes. This gets subverted upon the arrival of a new priest as mysterious incidents start to happen. With such a cozy environment full of likeable characters, the quiet dread that these happenings inspire feel akin to the dread you feel in your own home. Like something unwelcome and unknown has entered. Once the source of horror has finally been revealed, it came as a surprise but not out of nowhere, making it feel less of a “twist” and more or a natural plot progression. By the end of it all, our characters are set on a path of no return in an explosion of violence; a payoff to the atmospheric, slowburn dread that has been built up.
There’s also something to be said about the show’s tackling of religion. While the island is predominantly a religiously Christian one and the story revolves around these themes, it does not feel like Mr. Flanagan and company are trying to steer you towards being for or against religion. Rather, religion — Christian or otherwise — (or lack thereof) is just a part of these characters’ lives. Interestingly, the show also shows the horrors that can come upon from those who misunderstand and/or manipulate people’s beliefs for their own personal agenda.
Toxic religious practices are something that this show explores fully, and I was surprised to see it so well represented. While this show has plenty of supernatural happenings that I won’t describe so I don’t ruin the surprise, the way the people’s minds are twisted to suffice the selfish desires of some is terrifying to see. I’d say that almost no one here acts with evil in their hearts and they sincerely think that monsignor Hill’s new gospel is the world’s salvation.
The problem arises when narcissism speaks through Bible verses and self-righteousness like in Bev Keane’s case. She’s the star member of Crocket Island’s church and the most despicable character I’ve seen in a long time. She’s in the same level of Dolores Umbridge and Carrie White’s mom so you get the picture. Kudos to Samantha Sloyan for portraying an absolutely disgusting woman who twists religion to fulfill her own bigoted agenda. My only complain about her character is that, in a show where so many strange things happen, the most unbelievable storyline was no one telling her to shut the hell up.
Something else I really enjoyed is the religion vs. atheism debate. Neither side is shown as stupidly naïve or unsensitively cynic. You can have a rational conversation about how you try to make sense to the world and find a good middle ground. The scene with Riley and his love interest Erin (Kate Siegel) discussing the afterlife was poignant and actually made me tear up a bit.
What Did Not Work?
Oh God, those two first episodes were a drag. I am all in for slow burn horror shows and movies but at least you have to give me something! The beginning of Midnight Mass info dumps its way to present the people in town instead of doing it as the story goes. Other than some weird happenings here and there and the second episode’s ending, you get nothing but bland exposition. I guess that Mike Flanagan’s credentials were enough to make people stay because they knew something juicy was coming.
Nevertheless, I think it is a lazy tactic to rely on your fame to keep people interested. If this was his debut show and it had less publicity, much of the audience would have given up and stop watching. I almost did actually! I had to look for spoilers to see if it was worth the time I was investing. It really did but I imagine an alternate version of myself who missed a great show because of the boring beginning. I wonder how many others who are not familiar with Flanagan’s work did just the same.
I didn’t really find much to dislike about Midnight Mass, but viewers who are averse to religious discussions may find this one tough to sit through as it plays a large part in the show. Those looking for a more fast-paced experience may also find the show too slow for their liking. Lastly, if you also prefer your horror with more atmosphere than dialogue driven, you may want to steer clear.
Where Can I Find It?
Midnight Mass is currently streaming on Netflix as an exclusive mini series.
Midnight Mass is the kind of show that I love; creepy, suspenseful, atmospheric, character-driven, tear-jerking. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t tear up by the end. I definitely highly recommend giving this a go. If you’re into slowburn horror and Mike Flanagan’s style. This is one mass I was glad I attended.
I grew up in a Catholic, albeit quite liberal, household, so it was refreshing to see a story where religion was not presented as inherently bad but more as a result of the people who lead it. Depending of the circumstances, it has the potential to be a source of comfort or manipulation. In Midnight Mass, even the supernatural happenings follow the same pattern. Monsignor Hill’s source of miracles can be angelic or diabolic depending of the eye of the beholder. Sadly, for the people in Crockett Island, it was never his call to decide. Some things are just destined to remain in the shadows for a good reason.
Dustin’s Final Rating
Javiera’s Final Rating
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Dustin is a horror fan and sometimes short story writer who hails from the Philippines. He likes a lot of the horror genre but usually goes for slashers and arthouse/slowburn stuff. Currently, he’s trying to make up for lost time in the horror literature world by digesting as many horror books as he can.