The new Netflix release Midnight Mass dropped today. It is the latest offering from the mind of Mike Flanagan and his production team who have already brought beloved horror series Haunting of Hill House and Haunting of Bly Manor and films Hush, Oculus, and Doctor Sleep. Obviously, Flanagan has established himself as a modern horror auteur, and Midnight Mass has some high expectations to meet considering the pedigree, so does this new story further cement Flanagan’s reputation?
Yes, yes it does. Frankly, I abhor the clickbait bullshit method of writing and discussion. So, just going to get that out of the way at the top to unabashedly state that Midnight Mass is good and you should watch it. Seriously, if you are a fan of slow building unease and terror, well written drama, or superb acting, you will enjoy Midnight Mass. Now, that is out of the way; let’s dive into why you will enjoy this particular series. Obviously, SPOILERS ahead.
As with previous Flanagan productions, the cast of characters are interesting, three dimensional, flawed humans who guide us through seven episodes of intriguing arcs, relationship dynamics, narrative twists, and some heady philosophical discussions concerning faith, death, and the roles and obligations of man to, and from, their fellow man. A daunting task handled with impressive skill by the talented actors that embody the inhabitants of the small community of Crockett Island.
The series begins with the return of the prodigal son, Riley Flynn (played by Flanagan universe (Flanaverse?) newcomer Zach Gilford), a recently paroled, recovering alcoholic haunted by his past sins. He is back home with his family: his mother, Annie (played by fellow newcomer Kristin Lehman), his brother Warren (played by Igby Rigney), and father Ed (played by Flanaverse veteran Henry Thomas). Along with the Flynn family, we are introduced to the entirety of the Crockett Island residents in the first episode of the series. Joining them are the affable mayoral family of patriarch Wade (played by genre mainstay Michael Trucco), matriarch Dolly (played by Crystal Balint), and daughter Leeza (played by a fresh of breath air talent who does some heavy lifting Annarah Cymone). As well, we have a few horror trope classics in the small town with the local town drunk Joe Collie (played by Robert Longstreet), the holier than thou hypocritical religious zealot Bev Keane (played to too well perfection by Samantha Sloyan), the “new” to the community replacement priest Father Paul (played by Hamish Linklater), the no nonsense scientist/doctor who uses her knowledge to figure out the supernatural mystery Dr. Sarah Gunning (played by returning Flanaverse actress Annabeth Gish), the true outsider in more ways than one Sherriff Hassan (played by returning, and hopefully new mainstay, Flanaverse actor Rahul Kohli), and rounding out the cast is the returning beloved town child who finds solace back home Erin Greene (played by Flanaverse mainstay Kate Siegel). While there are other characters that add to the plot to some extent, the preceding are the ones that truly make the various shifting arcs and twists and ultimately drive the main narrative of this series.
Midnight Mass is said to be a culmination of Mike Flanagan’s works and the one that he has been wanting to make for the longest time. There have been Easter Eggs in his other work to support this point, but even without those, we can see various elements of Flanagan’s previous work melded into this one. There are the complicated family dynamics between fathers and children with added drama given by the involvement and help of mothers, the aftermath of trauma and loss, the added pressures and issues of recovery from addiction, the sense of growing isolation, the burden and regret of choices made or never taken, the brief philosophical debates on belief and the place of humanity in the wide universe, and the ever present shadow of death: all markers previously seen in Flanagan’s works, but, in this case, these are somehow magnified and focused compared to previous works. Whether that is due to a more skilled hand earned through experience, widening the view of the narrative beyond a single family or pair into more perspectives across more diverse characters, or the use of religion and belief as the focused narrative tool instead of family dynamics or romantic entanglements, the ultimate effect is an impressive and entertaining study of religion, faith, and how both can, and will, be used by charismatic individuals for good and ill to great impact regardless of the original intentions or morals.
If Bly Manor and Hill House were examinations of love, the regrets of indecision, and family trauma, then Midnight Mass is a treatise of faith and belief in whatever facet one may choose to place theirs in. Crocket Island, like many real world places, is a dying community, a fishing island that has never recovered from an oil spill. To pile on to the island’s issues, many residents have left to find work and hope off the island resulting in a steep drop in populace, income, resources, and community. Though it seems to happen with shocking regularity, I don’t believe that artists are beset with the curse of foresight or anything of the like. It is simply the gift of observance and the cyclical nature of history and humanity. Still, I am sure many will find several parallels between the fictional town of Crocket Island and their own towns and cities across the country.
It is in this suffering community barely holding on that the message and miracles Father Paul preaches takes hold, unsurprisingly so. Beyond the collapse of their way of life, each major character is dealing with their own personal issues ranging from medical issues to seeing the decline of loved ones to being alone with impending changes forthcoming. Of course, such circumstances are fertile ground for a group of people looking for any rope to hang on to though it may end up being the one they are hanged with.
I won’t go further into spoiler territory since I truly believe this show is well worth the investment. I hope you will take the time to watch it at your earliest convenience. I will say that, like Flanagan’s previous Netflix offerings, there is a bittersweet ending. Though that is part and parcel with the horror genre and used to great effect in this show. Each individual ending, and the general resolution, is well and truly earned. After all, faith and belief, as the show itself states, don’t provide the answers to God’s, or the universe’s, will, if such a thing exists. All they can give is comfort and solace in the difficult times and motivation to do the right and noble thing. And that is exactly what is provided for the few, motivated steadfast believers: solace and comfort. Whether that is in the form of a last prayer with your reconciled son, a long awaited and desired moment with the family you always wanted, one last community gathering, one final good memory in your last moments, or a welcomed hand as you watch your world burn. Oddly, we would all be so lucky to have any of those options in the end, and maybe that is the reward for having a little bit of faith in family, in friends, in a higher power, or just in our fellow man: comfort and solace in the final moments.