Review: Mike Flanagan creates horror binging nirvana with bonkers 'Midnight Mass'
Courtesy of Netflix
These days, the fall binging season doesn't start until Mike Flanagan, the creator of “The Haunting of Hill House” and its spiritual counterpart “The Haunting of Bly Manor,” unspools his latest creation. Whereas the “Doctor Sleep” and “Hush” director adapted “Hill House” and “Bly Manor,” “Midnight Mass” is based solely from inside the auteur's twisted mind. A sinister tour-de-force that’ll give horror fans plenty to chew on, this inspired Netflix series reaches insane creative highs.
Exploiting religious allegories and capturing grief through the eyes of damaged characters comprehending their peculiar situation, “Midnight Mass” is Flanagan firing on all cylinders. Unafraid of pushing boundaries in his overall agenda: dissecting faith in various forms with unpredictable horror twists, over the seven hour long episodes provided to critics, “Midnight Mass” pulls the viewer along, lighting a match under itself as it unravels a gripping central mystery. Occasionally long winded, usually the case for a Flanagan joint, the engaging subplots and sound principle cast overcome a slower-than-usual start.
The series primarily focuses on Riley Flynn (Zach Gilford), a man still living with the burden of his drunk driving accident that claimed a young girl’s life. Riley’s return to his hometown, Crockett Island (nicknamed the Crock Pot) after serving a four year prison term isn’t met with robust enthusiasm, including that of his parents, though mom is all about second chances, dad struggles to make sense of it all. The only friend Riley has is Erin Greene (Kate Siegel), an old high school pal who ended up back in the “Crock Pot” after a nasty divoce. Now pregnant and basically the only teacher at the local school, Erin, unlike Riley, is looking for any excuse to rekindle her faith.
As with most small communities, the folks of Crockett Island are connected in several ways, especially the church, so the arrival of a mysterious new priest Father Paul (Hamish Linklater in a career defining performance) raises eyebrows, but once “miracles” start happening on his watch, the entire dynamic and landscape of Crockett Island shifts. Without going into spoilers, trying to assume Father Paul’s motives will prove futile. Something is certainly off about his emergence on a tiny island in the middle of nowhere and Riley, who lost his faith in prison, appears the only soul who questions his motives. Hamish, bless him, delivers stunning and borderline hypnotic speeches. The energy brought to Father Paul’s sermons is enough to convert any skeptical audience member to the dark side.
Though not as consistent compared to “Hill House” and “Bly Manor,” when the sequences of terror arrive, “Midnight Mass” doesn’t hold back. Invoking feelings of “Village of the Damned” and folklore legends (of which if I were to reveal would be spoilery) that conjure up solid thrills. Meanwhile, Flanagan maintains his trademark routines, throwing his seal of approval on each episode. Wide shots, brooding scores of cacophonous church gospels, shadowy figures lurking in the woods, and a genuine sense of potboiler tension suggest Flangan may have perfected the horror series recipe.
With the help of cinematographer Micheal Fimognari, the dreariness and foggy aesthetic of Crockett Island elevates the series’ eerie ambiance. It feels like a cozy slice of isolated paradise where everyone knows everyone and flannels are all but mandated. An infectious camaraderie that gets tested once the townsfolk are pushed past the point of no return and darker elements come into play. After all, there must be an explanation as to why hundreds of dead cats are washing up on the shoreline?
“Midnight Mass” is not without a large cast either, featuring prominent Flanagan regulars as well as fresh blood. Samantha Sloyan playing Father Paul’s devout assistant, Bev Keane who in another life was probably the Wicked Witch of the West, is the best newbie of the bunch, finding the balance between controlled chaos and psychotic extremism, the foundation of Flanagan’s script. On the other hand, playing the fish-out-of-water sheriff struggling to acclimate into a town that wants nothing to do with him, Rahul Kohli is a notable scene stealer. One speech (you’ll know when you see it) moved me to tears.
There’s no doubt Flanagan has delivered his best series yet, as the blending of supernatural horror with startling religious undertones puts “Midnight Mass” in a class by itself. Deeply grounded conversations on existentialism and death keeps viewers floating between episodes, but it’s also just a rare, terrifying late night excursion worth believing in. Rejoice! Your next obsession has arrived.
MIDNIGHT MASS debuts on Netflix Friday, September 24th