The latest TV miniseries from writer/director Mike Flanagan delivers exactly what people want from the horror genre: scene after scene of actors performing long, uninterrupted monologues at one other. Happy Halloween, drama kids!
Like Flanagan’s other efforts, most notably The Haunting of Hill House, Midnight Mass isn’t some silly spooky shenanigans. It is a meditation on damning fallacies of faith, punctuated by moments of bonkers batshit creepiness. Much like the unfairly underseen Saint Maud, this new Netflix series argues that the depths and legitimacy of one’s beliefs does not absolve any subsequent sinning. Hey, is now perhaps a good time for a show that follows people who use the bible to selfishly justify doing whatever they want at the risk of their neighbors’ lives?
Midnight Mass takes place on Crockett Island, a gloriously Stephen King-ish locale filled with bearded drunks and so much Catholicism that the Pope finds it a bit gaudy. Father Paul Hill (Hamish Linklater) shows up at St. Patrick’s Church one day, explaining that the elderly town priest has taken ill. He immediately sets to work counseling the island’s misfit toys, including Riley Flynn (Zach Gilford), a former tech bro fresh out of prison after murdering a woman in a drunk driving accident.
Riley’s estranged life-long love interest, Erin Greene (Kate Siegel), is also back home and quite pleased that she’s about to be a single mom. She’s cared for by Crockett’s only doc, Sarah Gunning (Annabeth Gish), who also looks after her own mother, Mildred (Alex Essoe), who is battling dementia. Sheriff Hassan (Rahul Kohli) does his best to keep the peace when not being tormented for being Muslim by the town’s resident zealot, Bev Keane (Samantha Sloyan). If you’re wondering how extra you must act in order to be considered a zealot on what is essentially Catholicism Island, the answer is “Bible Karen.”
Before long, mysterious things start happening, the less of which are spoiled the better. You won’t have to wait for answers though. Among the many, many things that Midnight Mass gets very right: It knows which reveals will be obvious and quickly gives them up. Hell, maybe nothing that happens in the whole show plot-wise could be considered truly surprising or twisty. Good. The overreliance on narrative tricks in so much genre material undercuts and weakens character development and thematic messaging. Not here.
Midnight Mass attempts to reconcile the differences between faiths in a way that moves beyond “tolerance.” It directly speculates on what happens when we die and sets forth a secularly compelling description of God. Most importantly, it sorta casually argues that those who blindly follow religious devotion into actions that harm others are no less guilty than those who knowingly use religion to do bad things. Meaningful, difficult, ugly repentance is the only way out. Oh, and there’s lots of blood and carnage and various scary sundries, if such things bump your goose.
Midnight Mass is a patient, wordy, atmospheric horror parable. It’s the sort of thing an enlightened Stephen King would write if he wasn’t obsessed with gross things happening to children and alcoholic writers. It may not be overly scary in the expected sense, but the implications are as chilling as any “boo” that has ever been booed.
Grade = A
Other Critical Voices to Consider
Chauncey K. Robinson at People’s World says “There is a long dark history of the things religious claims have sanctioned, and Midnight Mass attempts to tackle it head on.”
Yolanda Machado at Observer says “Midnight Mass is a bit like an unfinished home—the bones are there, and the path is written, but aside from some necessary tools, it’s far too empty.”
Nicolás Delgadillo at Discussing Film says “Midnight Mass, for all of its pulpy grandstanding and indulgent bloodshed, is exactly what it should be: Restoring. The horror genre is the best genre, folks. And it’s alive and well.”