For us, creator Mike Flanagan has always been a bit of a polarising figure. He strikes us as a man who is constantly experimenting within the horror genre. Sometimes his projects prove to be successes. Films like his mind-bending psychological horror film “Oculus” or his deeply unsettling Netflix miniseries “The Haunting of Hill House” for example. Then, there are the not-so-great ones like his last miniseries “The Haunting of Bly Manor”. A horror show so inconceivably awful we found ourselves straight-up laughing through the entire thing. Throughout Flanagan’s oeuvre, there’s always been a distinct focus on damaged characters and their perspectives.
He goes to great lengths to humanise his characters before subjecting them through utter hell. This is in lieu of creating the whole horror premise before throwing the characters in to be fodder. It’s a risky approach seeing that if your character (*cough* Dani) fails to resonate with the audience, it robs the scares of its momentum. Which is unfortunately why “Bly Manor” failed. Flanagan returns with yet another horror miniseries, “Midnight Mass”. One that explores a rather interesting subject that the director has yet to tackle: religion. Will faithful fans be rewarded with a worthy follow-up to “Hill House”? Or will this church service put you to sleep? Let’s find out!
The plot of “Midnight Mass” follows the lives and times of the residents on Crockett Island. A secluded, melancholic island town with a dwindling church following. That is until a charismatic, young priest arrives out of nowhere to pastor the town. His sudden appearance brings newfound life into the town along with miracles. That being said, some residents are not convinced of the preacher’s good tidings. When former alcoholic Riley Flynn and Sheriff Hassan begin looking into the town’s supernatural occurrences, they uncover a dark secret. One more demonic than divine.
Admittedly, the series is a little slow with its first two episodes “Genesis” and “Psalms”. It’s constantly switching back and forth between the humdrum lives of its troubled residents; done in an effort to ensure that the audience is well aware of its key dramatis personae. There are a few creepy signs here and there but they’re mostly used for setting up the stage. Things get really going in the third episode “Proverbs”. From there on out, the town descends into chaos. By then, you’re more or less aware of the horrifying situation at hand.
While Flanagan’s miniseries does touch on the subject of religion, it never feels preachy. Rather, the creator uses the many questions people have about God and tries to fill in the gaps with his own disturbing narrative. He manages to explore the subject through many angles while still keeping the main focus on the evil creeping into Crockett Island. We especially enjoyed the story of Sheriff Hassan played by actor Rahul Kohli. It’s rare for us to see how a devout Muslim navigates through supernatural forces in western media. So it was refreshing to see Hassan’s struggle to balance his love for his town with his faith.
As for the actual threat, let’s just say than it’s a lot more complicated than an evil priest coming to lead people astray. There are a handful of great twists that we didn’t see coming. Which is honestly great seeing that so many of horror films and TV series with religious undertones quickly devolve into this bland singular quest to expel the demon. We love the “The Conjuring” as much as the next guy but it was getting a little repetitive.
The source of Flanagan’s horror here comes from a sense of violation he imposes on the audience. He takes aspects of Christian culture and subverts them to create some rather unsettling imagery. So, things that people associate with holy and safe become profane and grostesque. It plays off the shock and emotional terror that weighs on the audience’s psyche. A tactic that filmmaker Ari Aster often uses in films like “Hereditary” and “Midsommar”.
That being said, there are a few cheap jumpscares that rely on the usual manipulation of negative space. They’re mostly forgivable with most of the scares leaving legitimately frightening imagery in their wake. “Midnight Mass” score makes full use of its religious setting to create an aura of dread throughout the series. From organs rising out of the depths of hell to chilling choir melodies playing in the background.
None of this of course would be made possible without the work of its stellar cast. No doubt many will point to Hamish Linklater’s performance as Father Paul Hill as the key to the show’s success. Linklater balances out warm genuine humanity with his character’s darker instincts beneath the surface. It’s easy to look at his kind, friendly face and be lulled into this false sense of security. Samantha Sloyan does the most amazing job as the ever hateable Bev Keane. The caretaker of St. Patrick Church and a professional Karen who makes our blood boil every time she opens her mouth.
However, we also want to recognise actor Rahul Kohli’s role as Hassan. His minor role in “Bly Manor” was the one silver lining in that trainwreck. Here, we really get to see him come into his own as a father and sheriff looking to uncover the truth behind Hill’s plan. Hassan’s also a very well written character with his Islamic faith being so strongly tied to his grief and pain. We sincerely hope Flanagan will continue to bring Kohli back for more roles.
Mike Flanagan’s “Midnight Mass” is made for late-night binge-watching. The series delivers a terrifying tale of faith gone wrong by subverting familiar religious elements to give us something uniquely spooky. Strong writing and performances from the overall cast aid in anchoring its otherworldly plot. Striking a fine line between thought-provoking commentary and spine-chilling scares. Won’t lie, we initially had doubts walking in but after this insane seven hour ride, Flanagan has made us believers again!
You can now catch “Midnight Mass” on Netflix today! Here’s the trailer:
So what did you think of Mike Flanagan’s “Midnight Mass”? Did you love it? Did you hate it? Be sure to leave your reactions down below!
Netflix's "Midnight Mass" Review
Mike Flanagan's "Midnight Mass" is made for late-night binge-watching. The series delivers a terrifying tale of faith gone wrong by subverting familiar religious elements to give us something uniquely spooky. Strong writing and performances from the overall cast aid in anchoring its otherworldly plot. Striking a fine line between thought-provoking commentary and spine-chilling scares.
- Netflix's "Midnight Mass" Review