Sommerleigh Pollonais, Horror Head Writer
Plot: At a manor with a mysterious history, eight members of the Midnight Club meet each night at midnight to tell sinister stories — and to look for signs of the supernatural from the beyond.
Review: Prior to this adaptation of Christopher Pike’s eponymous novel Mike Flanagan, who now officially has his own “universe” of films and shows on Netflix called Flanaverse (don’t blame me, I didn’t come up with the name), took on grief in The Haunting of Hill House, regret in The Haunting of Bly Manor and the dangers of blind faith in Midnight Mass. And that’s just his television series. Flanagan has quickly become one of my favourite modern day horror writers and directors so it goes without saying I would be watching The Midnight Club (I’m a HUGE fan of Christopher Pike as well!).
But if there’s one thing I’ve learned from watching Flanagan’s work, is you never quite know what to expect from him as even though his filmography leans towards horror, the levels change depending on the story he’s telling. This time The Midnight Club’s dread comes from a terribly realistic place, that of people dying of terminal illnesses. The club are teenagers who should be starting the best chapters of their lives and instead are struggling to come to terms with their impending deaths.
The story centers on Ilonka (Iman Benson) whose plans for college are derailed by a terminal cancer diagnosis. But Ilonka is a fighter and after some research she learns of a place called Brightcliffe, a hospice where teens such as herself live out their last days. While Ilonka claims the appeal of this place is to be with kids her own age who understands what she’s going through, it’s her research into Brightcliffe that is her real motive for being there. She believes the manager (played by Heather Langenkamp, most famously known for her role as Nancy in A Nightmare on Elm Street) is hiding the secrets of this place, secrets that may be the only hope for curing them all.
A cast of mostly unknown young actors do a phenomenal job of keeping you invested in this ten-episode story which at times plays like a much darker version of the kind of stories found in the Goosebumps series of books. Iman Benson is wonderful as Ilonka, whose choices as she seeks out a cure for her cancer fits perfectly for someone her age. All of the young actors are emotionally effective in their roles as they each take turns telling tales that at first may seem like just a way for them to pass the time but at their core are actually representative of the trauma, grief, fear and pain they’ve all experienced in their lives so far. Personally, I gravitated towards Anya (Ruth Codd) who initially comes off as abrasive but who Codd fills with such depth and nuance your heart can’t help but break for everything she goes through.
Visually the series screams Flanagan (especially if you’re already familiar with his style) and it must’ve been quite the task to make this stand out as more than just another young adult novel adaptation. The scares here aren’t as effective as his previous work but I think the choice to do so was deliberate. These are teenagers telling “ghost stories” which means the jump scares are overdone (with one character literally pointing this out) and while there’s real tension to be found here the cord is never pulled as tight as one might expect. I’m sure this means some viewers might walk away a tad disappointed (I also struggled to settle into this story because I kept waiting for the “supernatural” elements to take over) but The Midnight Club isn’t trying to be another Hill House, even if it does dip into that territory every now and again.
Besides the uneven tone, the pacing is another aspect where the series (or season) struggled and there were moments that the repetitive nature of some of the episodes, with its motif of the kids gathering together to tell stories, would cause my interest to wane. I love Flanagan’s work, but this series overall would be pretty low down on my list of his work I would probably want to revisit any time soon.
So, what does all this say about The Midnight Club? Does it work or does it fall apart under the weight of opposing themes, the supernatural versus the drama? For this viewer the strength of the show lies with the strong performances of its cast who believably create characters you want to root for right up to the end. It was great seeing Heather Langenkamp in a way I’ve never seen her before, and her character might just be the most mysterious one of the entire bunch. Flanagan as well as Leah Fong once again deliver with haunting visuals and a great score to match (that 90s playlist was a banger).
Even with its flaws The Midnight Club effectively delivers on its overall themes, treating the very real journey that these kids go through with both respect and love and proving once again that Mike Flanagan’s work will always keep you guessing and is always worthy of a look.
Score: 6.5 out of 10
So, are you a fan of Mike Flanagan? What is your favourite series from him? And you can check out more related 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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