Over the last decade, Mike Flanagan has assembled an impressive horror résumé. Alongside James Wan (Malignant, Saw), he’ll likely find his name mentioned next to all-time greats like Carpenter and Craven. He’s moved from small thrillers (Oculus, Hush) to big-screen scares (Ouija: Origin of Evil) to marque Stephen King adaptations (Doctor Sleep). Both his Netflix series – The Haunting of Hill House and The Haunting of Bly Manor – were triumphs of subtle horror storytelling. Now Flanagan’s newest Netflix series, Midnight Mass, is streaming just in time for Halloween season. Not surprisingly, critics are raving about the results, which recall some of the best of Stephen King adaptations.
After a tragic accident and several years in prison, a disgraced Riley Flynn returns to his family home on the isolated Crockett Island. What he finds is a community in decline and dwindling faith. But that changes when a young priest Father Paul Hill replaces the island parish’s aging Monsignor Pruitt. His charismatic sermons and strange miracles galvanize the small community. No one suspects that Father Paul is hiding a dark secret that stalks Crocket Island while they sleep at night.
Midnight Mass a Haunting Exploration of the Dangers of Unquestioning Faith
As his career has progressed, Mike Flanagan has increasingly favoured slow-burn atmosphere over loud, stylish scares. Horror fans craving gore, quick scares, and rapidly paced story may be disappointed with Midnight Mass. Flanagan emphasizes atmosphere, characters, and story resulting in a methodical pace. While Flanagan executes the series’ horror elements with considerable style, they are few and far apart. Moreover, audiences will likely figure out some of what’s going on very early into the seven episodes. There’s definitely some immediate comparisons to Salem’s Lot. Not all of the twists shock as might have been intended. Nevertheless, Midnight Mass ensures there’s a payoff to the winding buildup. What unfolds in the penultimate episode, Act of the Apostles, is uncomfortable and horrifying.
Flanagan emphasizes atmosphere, characters, and story resulting in a methodical pace.
What separates Midnight Mass from other horror series, like Scream or Slasher, are Flanagan’s bigger themes. Here, audiences will find Flanagan musing about faith, religion, and immortality. By and large, the director and writers nails these ideas. Midnight Mass is at its best exposing the horrors of unquestioning faith and the hypocrisy behind some of the most ardent ideologies. But Midnight Mass is sometimes too enamored with its own ideas. One could argue that the series could have cut out one episode. And there’s probably a monologue or two that slow things down too much.
Midnight Mass Finds Flanagan Regulars and Newcomers in Fine Form
Like his previous Netflix series, Flanagan has assembled an impressive cast including several regular collaborators. Yet in spite of several strong performances, Hamish Linklater steals the show with an absolutely captivating performance. Linklater injects ‘Father Paul’ with so much charisma and passion that it’s never hard to buy his congregation’s blind allegiance. Still Linklater’s best moments come in the series’ quieter scenes where he’s able to embrace the character’s more complex morality. Certainly, it helps that Flanagan has penned a screenplay that avoids too many tired clichés. In addition to Linklater, Samantha Sloyan’s ‘Bev Keane’ may be the most loathsome television villain since Joffrey.
…Hamish Linklater steals the show with an absolutely captivating performance.
Though Linklater and Sloyan stand out from the crown, Midnight Mass’ ensemble cast all shine. Zack Gilford quietly reminds us why we liked him so much in Friday Night Lights, while Henry Thomas completely disappears into his role. Once again working with her off-screen husband, Kate Siegel offers the series an anchor, also delivering one its most emotionally powerful moments. As Crockett Island’s Muslim sheriff, Rahul Kohli makes a strong case for more headlining roles. And Flanagan regulars Annabeth Gish and Alex Essoe (Midnighters) both have their moments to deliver the goods.
Midnight Mass …
Overall, Midnight Mass finds a master of his craft at the top of his game, if not feeling a bit verbose. And yes, even with only seven episodes, Midnight Mass occasionally feels long in the tooth. Arguably, there’s one too many monologues on faith, immortality, and death. But there’s no denying the series’ emotional payoff. Moreover, when Midnight Mass gets down to the business of scares, Flanagan does it better than just about anyone. His reliance on atmosphere and tone over superficial jumps ensures that scenes like the penultimate episode’s ‘midnight mass’ are shocking.
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