In Netflix’s seven-part limited series Midnight Mass, acclaimed Doctor Sleep and Haunting of Hill House writer/director Mike Flanagan takes a break from translating famous horror books to create his horrific piece of art. Flanagan has created his most meaningful, intimate, and frightening work yet, free of the creative constraints of adapting other people’s stories. Midnight Mass might feel a little long in the tooth at times, with some episodes spanning more than 65 minutes; nevertheless, Flanagan justifies his creative indulgence with a gloriously crazy final three episodes that left me breathless.
Midnight Mass, set in the secluded village of Crockett Island, quickly gives off a dark feeling, as the crumbling town looks to be slowly rotting from the inside out. We encounter the colorful residents here. Flanagan is a genius at creating memorable characters, and Midnight Mass is no exception.
Riley Flynn (Zach Gilford from Good Girls) returns to his boyhood home on Crockett Island after a long absence due to a horrific event. Gilford offers a restrained yet compelling performance as his character struggles with continuous self-doubt and dread of allowing others in even his own family. When Riley’s father (Haunting of Hill House alum Henry Thomas) persuades him to attend church, we meet the town’s new priest, Father Paul (Hamish Linklater).
During their monthly Alcoholics Anonymous sessions, Riley and Father Paul develop a dynamic connection as the clergyman begins to assist Crockett Island’s wayward son to cope with his past traumas. Riley’s one-on-one conversations with Father Paul are thought-provoking, as he presses him to explain some of the most pressing theological problems, such as why God allows awful things to happen to good people. These are some of the show’s most touching character-building moments, but it’s also where the plot may become a little sluggish at times. While the topic matter and performances in these religion-centric talks are engaging, it appears like Flanagan is attempting to pound his point home after the nail has already been driven home.
With that said, Linklater (Legion, Fargo) is terrific as Father Paul, displaying the actor’s tremendous versatility throughout by imbuing his role with lots of charisma, empathy, and even creepiness when the situation calls for it. After supernatural occurrences that defy explanation begin to unfold at the church under Father Paul’s guidance, the town is swept up in religious fervor, producing a schism between believers and doubters.
In Midnight Mass, Flanagan cleverly plays with many types of terror, from the otherworldly to those formed of human nature: zealotry, corruption, and jealousy. While the ghostly terrors and jump scares aren’t as pervasive as they are in The Haunting of Hill House, there’s plenty to keep you awake during your binge.
Flanagan continues to demonstrate that he is not just a talented writer but also an accomplished filmmaker. As his protagonists travel around Crockett Island’s decaying terrain, his use of lengthy tracking shots during discussions gives a feeling of size and reality. The music also contributes to the eerie atmosphere, from melancholy folk tunes to instrumental hymns playing in the background. There’s one piece of music, “Were You There,” that’s evocative of Game of Thrones’ “Rains of Castamere” song, indicating something gloomy, sorrowful, or perhaps joyous.
Midnight Mass has a stellar cast of character performers, including Kate Siegel (Hush), Annabeth Gish (The X-Files), and Michael Trucco (Battlestar Galactica). Flanagan’s writing intelligently gives everyone a chance to shine so that by the time you come to the wild last three episodes, you have a strong sense of connection to the group.
Rahul Kohli (Haunting of Bly Manor) stands out as the town’s sheriff among this brilliant group. His connection with his son Ali (Rahul Abburi) is charming, as the kid struggles with his Muslim upbringing in a predominantly Christian neighborhood. Samantha Sloyan’s extremely religious Beverly “Bev” Keane is another example. Sloyan nibbles on every word to perfection, and she’s one of those characters you quickly love to despise.
Midnight Mass is Mike Flanagan’s most outstanding effort to date. It’s full of interesting people and plenty of supernatural and human frights, but it’s also a very personal narrative. Even if some of the character exchanges are overly lengthy, the Netflix limited series skillfully grapples with profound theological problems in an exciting manner. Flanagan stretches his directorial skills with some slick tracking shots that help bring the eerie and secluded village of Crockett Island to life.