Why aren’t we talking about “Midnight Mass” more?
When Haunting of Hill House came out on Netflix in 2018, it was both a critical and commercial smash hit. Loosely based on a 1959 novel of the same name, the series was both scary and beautifully crafted, and rightly became a regular topic of bar room chatter for months. It was also filmmaker Mike Flanagan’s magnum opus, effectively putting his name on the map as a veritable force in the world of onscreen horror. Yet, Flanagan’s (who also directed various Stephen King adaptations like Gerald’s Game and Doctor Sleep, among many others) most personal work, which was inspired by his Catholic upbringing and is what he considers his “passion project,” has sadly gone under the radar receiving negligible amount of buzz (maybe because it was released the same time as Squid Game) compared to previous Netflix hits, Hill House and Bly Manor. That is, the supernatural horror limited series Midnight Mass (2021), which he wrote, edited and directed.
Midnight Mass tells the story of Riley Flynn (Zach Gilford), a fairly young businessman who kills a woman while drunk-driving. Traumatized from the ordeal and his subsequent stint in prison, Riley returns to his hometown, Crockett Island, population 130—a dull, East Coast island town separated from the mainland by 30 miles. Riley moves back in with his devout parents, who are faithful members of St Patrick’s, the town’s depressing parish and resided by in-house priest Monsignor Pruitt. He himself is an ageing priest away on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land.
To fill the void is Father Paul Hill (Hamish Linklater), a well-spoken, mysterious clergyman, who says Pruitt has become sick on his trip. Sceptic Riley joins his family in church, sitting with similarly devout townspeople to see the new kid on the block (AKA Father Paul) at work—and soon enough, they’re witnessing him perform miracles. The community’s religious fervor is suddenly renewed. But at what cost? Was it the angel who visited them or maybe the devil?
The show deals with some ambitious and complex themes, like grief, addiction and blind spirituality shaped by Flanagan’s experiences as a young Catholic and eventual atheist. Perhaps these themes and Flanagan’s trademark use of long, fiery monologues (like Father Paul’s stirring sermons or interventions to Riley) have a Shakespearean quality to them. And regardless of your opinion of the series, there’s little debate that Hamish Linklater’s brilliant portrayal of Father Paul should have garnered some Emmy talk at the very least. The cast, which features some Flanagan regulars like Kate Siegel of Hill House and Gerald’s Game (also Flanagan’s wife) and Rahul Kohli of Bly Manor. What the series might lack in cheap jump scares, it makes up for in some stellar writing and eerie, layered characters.
Although not overtly as terrifying as some of his other work, with its meditative tone, it is still frequently unsettling with plenty of gory imagery and references to religious fanaticism, which can be downright terrifying in its own right. The seven episodes in the series are named after New Testament books. The finale, Revelation, is biblically bloody yet surprisingly tender. It is hardly conventional horror; one might even argue overly ambitious at times. But it’s clear Flanagan has poured his heart into Midnight Mass, a neo-horror, reflective series and a perfect Halloween binge.
Words Art Vandelay
Art Matthew Ian Fetavler