Creator-director Mike Flanagan established a long time ago that he really knows his way around the horror genre. He gave us hits like Doctor Sleep and Hush and 2020’s anthology series The Haunting of Bly Manor.
Now with Midnight Mass, he delivers the same concept albeit in a different manner. Rather than making a series that focuses on hauntings and ghosts, Flanagan takes on the horrors of blind faith and religious extremism in his latest outing with Netflix. But this does not mean that the jump scares and spooky elements are completely missing.
Set in a remote fishing island called Crockett where the population is only 127, Midnight Mass is a story of a poor and down-on-its-luck community that begins to miraculously revive after the arrival of a new priest Paul Hill (Hamish Linklater). Old people start to de-age and a girl whose spine was injured in an accident can suddenly walk again. But as always, things are never what they seem.
One of the things that makes Midnight Mass an engaging story is its ability to steer clear of cliches. It is not a simple and repurposed version of an evil priest who charms the town. He is not an evil man with dark intentions. Through his deep and complex characterisation and actions, Flanagan draws our attention to self-righteousness, grief, addiction, and of course, religion over the course of seven episodes.
The series essentially begins with Riley Flynn’s (Zach Gilford) release from prison after running over a girl four years ago under the influence of alcohol. He comes back to Crockett or as the townsfolk call it ‘Crock Pot’. This fishing hamlet is known for two things- its fervent religiosity and poverty after a devastating oil spill which nearly kills the entire fishing habitat. His return to home coincides with Father Paul, who claims to be replacing the town’s aged priest Monsignor Pruitt while he recovers from an illness.
There is also Riley’s old girlfriend Erin Greene (Kate Siegel) who has come back to town and taken on the role of a high school teacher. She is a colleague of Beverly, (Samantha Sloyan) an intolerant and xenophobic woman who runs the local church. There is also the town sheriff Hassan (Rahul Kohli), local doctor Sarah (Annabeth Gish), and the town mayor Wade (Michael Trucco) and his family.
Paul’s entrance is not marked without incident. Hundreds of dead cats are washed near the shore after a storm, a creature with glowing eyes can be spotted when it’s dark, and Riley even spots Monsignor Pruitt during a storm. And soon, people and pets start to die. But only one by one, so the town hardly takes notice.
Linklater’s portrayal of the mysterious and charismatic priest is the show’s driving force. He is the generous, young pastor who goes to people’s homes to conduct mass. He does all of this while hiding a dark secret and that is enough to keep you hooked. The arrival of Father Paul and the sudden disappearance of the town’s old priest is the show’s central mystery. The answers to this mystery are something that you can never see coming and that is what sets it apart from other horror stories on religion and cultism.
These scenes are amplified by the hymns and gospel songs that are played in the background and the sermons that the Father gives to his enamoured congregation.
Midnight Mass plays out more like a supernatural drama rather than a full-blown horror series. It is dialogue-driven and there is very little action in the first couple of episodes. There are long talks about faith in the church, there are alcoholic anonymous meetings with Riley and Paul where they debate belief and God, and there are discussions about creating non-religious spaces in schools during parent-teacher conferences. The show uses these places to discuss horror- at least that of the real world. It is mostly about the problems that we see in society. For instance, the sheriff struggles with authority and acceptance in a predominantly Catholic town. Some of them even call him “Shariff” and rejoice when his son Ali decides to attends church.
Perhaps, the only issue is its slow pace. With each episode spilling over an hour, the chilling moments only feature once or twice. They still jitter the viewers but it does not feel like it is enough. The final two episodes see the return to familiar territory with the show steering towards out-an-out macabre and morbid fest. But it can sometimes feel like it came in too late.
Midnight Mass almost always strikes the balance between traditional and metaphorical scary elements making it a gripping and one-of-a-kind horror tale.
This Midnight Mass review is a Silverscreen original article. It was not paid for or commissioned by anyone associated with the movie. Silverscreen.in and its writers do not have any commercial relationship with movies that are reviewed on the site.