Sommerleigh Pollonais, Horror Head Writer
I’ll start off my review by stating the obvious—Mike Flanagan is one of the best (and my personal favourite) modern day horror director. He has written, directed and produced memorable horror movies like Hush and Oculus. He managed to make the best follow-up to one of the worst horror movies I’ve ever seen, Ouija: Origin of Evil (which I mentioned before in my Top 5 Prequels That Actually Work) and created the most chilling horror series I’ve seen to date with The Haunting of Hill House (his follow up Bly Manor was great too).
But you know what truly won me over? His adaptations of Stephen King’s work. He adapted Gerald’s Game, a book most would say was near impossible to adapt, and he did it flawlessly (in my humble opinion). In lesser hands, Doctor Sleep would’ve been laughably bad; in Mike Flanagan’s hands though, it turned out to be a solid sequel to one of the all-time greatest horror movies. And now he’s at again, adapting Stephen King’s Midnight Mass into a miniseries.
At this point in his filmography, I trust Flanagan’s talents so much, I didn’t even bother to watch the trailer or read any plot synopsis for this series (I’ve never read the novel) and instead happily jumped into the deep end, eyes closed and with a huge smile on my face. But the question remains, was he able to make another amazingly good horror series that would leave fans talking for days, maybe even years? Silly rabbit, Trix are for kids! And Mike Flanagan is a freaking horror master! Let’s take a look at religious horror done right with Netflix’s Midnight Mass.
First, a quick rundown of what this is all about (without spoilers). Riley Flynn (Zach Gilford of Friday Night Lights, The Purge: Anarchy) has returned to his small seaside hometown after being released from prison on parole. The town has seen better days and only a few dozen people live on this island affectionately known as “The Crock Pot”. Most of the townsfolk are deeply religious and attend services at their local parish run by an elderly priest named Father John Pruitt. But Riley, who has lost his faith, is told by his mother that Father Pruitt has left the island to visit Jerusalem on a long hoped-for trip.
Soon after a young priest named Father Paul Hill (Hamish Linklater) shows up and tells the parishioners he’ll be temporarily taking over for Father Pruitt, who has taken ill and is recovering on the mainland. But with strange occurrences taking place and people “miraculously” healed from afflictions that should be permeant, it quickly becomes obvious to us the viewers that something is not quite right about this young affable priest. And even when you’ve put it all together (it’s really not that hard to figure out, but that’s not really the point. More on this later) Midnight Mass is a visually immersive, atmospheric and well-crafted tale of the dangers of blind faith in those who have religious power.
Religious horror can be very difficult to pull off properly but Flanagan, who attended a Catholic high school and was himself an altar boy, manages to balance both the beauty that can be found in belief with the dangers of blindly listening to those who are at best misguided or, at worst, deliberately twisting the word of God for their own purposes. I’m sure there are those out there who will find the long lines of dialogue between characters to be tedious at times, but I came away intrigued by a miniseries that took inspiration from films like The Exorcist and other similarly dark religious horror movies. I was also intrigued by how they chose to dig a bit deeper into how someone, even a person who is devout in their faith, can become lost and how easily it can be to mistake the “devil in disguise” as your saving grace.
Most recently there was a movie called The Unholy that did something similar but where that was all style and very little substance (I still enjoyed it somewhat). Midnight Mass, however, digs all the way to the pits of what makes Christian/spiritual horror truly memorable.
While the early episodes are more character-driven and takes time to develop these people so we can come to care about them, the latter half dives into the horror most would expect (and want) from a Stephen King adaptation. As I mentioned before, the cinematography here is a thing of beauty, and scenes like when Father Paul and Riley are discussing the pros and cons of believing in a higher power made me think of Kubrick’s work in The Shining. High praise I know, but I think it’s justified. Without giving away too much, the design for a certain character was both angelic and nightmarish. And while the blood and gore doesn’t flow in bucket loads, it is well utilised and leaves one hell of an impact.
While the series is made up of multiple characters, the focus is more on Riley, his childhood sweetheart Erin (played by a mainstay of Flanagan’s movies and his real-life spouse, Kate Siegel) who is the kind of person you’ll love to hate, Bev Keane (Samantha Sloyan of Hush, The Haunting of Hill House), a religious zealot (a recurring character trope of King’s books), Sheriff Hassan (Rahul Kohli of iZombie), Dr Sarah Gunning (Annabeth Gish of The X-Files, Sons of Anarchy) and Father Paul who I mentioned earlier. They are just a handful of the characters but every actor here brings their A-game, with Hamish Linklater, last seen in The Stand and Legion, absolutely killing it as the charismatic priest with secrets to hide. I enjoyed the actor’s previous work but I have to say I never expected to see him pull of anything like this. And I’m not only impressed, I look forward to seeing him in bigger parts (such as this) where he can truly show what he’s capable of.
I could go on and on about this one folks, yet I know it’s not going to be everyone’s bag. Not only because it’s religious-based horror, which for some people can be very triggering, but because it’s more character-driven and more focused on delving into both the beauty and the dangers of faith. The horror is there and there are even bits to this story that are very reminiscent of King’s other (arguably more famous work) Salem’s Lot. But for this particular horror fan, Midnight Mass is a compelling and engaging series and a solid addition to Flanagan’s work. I can’t wait to see what he has in store for us next.
Sommer’s Score: 8 out of 10
So what did you think of Midnight Mass? And you can check out more great horror content below:
Sommerleigh of the House Pollonais. First of Her Name. Sushi Lover, Queen of Horror Movies, Comic Books and Binge Watching Netflix. Mother of two beautiful black cats named Vader and Kylo. I think eating Popcorn at the movies should be mandatory, PS4 makes the best games ever, and I’ll be talking about movies until the zombie apocalypse comes.
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