Netflix’s Midnight Mass Review: Always have faith in Flanagan
After missing out on both of Mike Flanagan’s Haunting series on Netflix, I absolutely vowed to check out his new series Midnight Mass because he’s truly a one-of-a-kind force in horror. If you haven’t seen his movies like Hush or Doctor Sleep, you’re truly missing out on a modern horror master’s work. Midnight Mass ranks among Flanagan’s best with religious horror story he concocted from personal experience.
Eagle-eyed fans of Hush and his adaptation of Stephen King’s Gerald’s Game likely remember seeing the title “Midnight Mass” flash across the screen at one point as a fictional book and that’s because it’s been a deeply personal passion project that Flanagan’s wanted to make for years. The story contains deeply personal ties to Flanagan’s upbringing in the Catholic church, his own struggles with alcoholism, and his eventual sobriety and turn to atheism that are clear as day with main character Riley Flynn (Zach Gilford). Riley sort of acts as a surrogate for Flanagan as he returns home to Crockett Island, where there’s a strong Christian backbone, after serving time in prison for killing a young girl while driving drunk.
Although this is a work of fiction, Riley’s story certainly feels real with how Flanagan captures his return home and the continual haunting of his actions that he’s forced to endure every night. His past actions have given him a not so welcoming reputation in Crockett and his struggles to get others to forgive him only elevates his own struggles to forgive himself. There’s this palpable pain within Riley that can always be seen and felt through Gilford’s raw performance and when he takes accountability for himself, it’s easy to appreciate that he chooses to own his mistakes but also see that he doesn’t allow himself to let go. Riley’s arc is easily one of the standout aspects of Midnight Mass that isn’t religious based as it emphasizes the struggles of causing tragedy and living with guilt through Gilford’s gut-wrenching performance and it’s truly the emotional centerpiece of the series. It also works so well within the religious horrors Flanagan eventually provides.
To be honest, Midnight Mass gets off to a slow start in its initial episodes as it really takes its time in divulging the relationships and conflicts between islanders as well as making you understand the pivotal impact religion plays in Crockett. Flanagan provides good scares here and there to remind viewers that Midnight Mass is indeed a horror series, but he isn’t the type to try to give instant gratification through scares and instead hooks you on the very intimate conversations and thoughts about religion that come from the arrival of a new monsignor, Father Hill (Hamish Linklater), after the island’s original priest doesn’t return from his trip.
Flanagan’s slow burn approach ends up working really well as it gives the series time to delve into religion in an objective way that fleshes out the good and the bad. Although Midnight Mass has plenty of religious horrors, it also finds moments that showcase the beneficial sides of religion that reflect a sense of peace and comfort. There’s this really fascinating conversation between the overly devoted Bev (Samantha Sloyan) and Crockett’s new Muslim sheriff Hassan (Rahul Kohli) that delves into some overlap in beliefs of Christians and Muslims. It’s a conversation that offers an idea of peace and commonality between religions that’s rarely seen in media and Hassan’s story also fleshes out post-911 targeting of Middle Eastern Muslims that’s equally rare and told through a realistic lens thanks to the great writing and Kohli’s performance.
There’s also this idea of religion offering a sense of comfort that’s displayed throughout and offers some of Midnight Mass’ richest thoughts and moments. From the paralyzed Leeza (Annarah Cymone) and her parents being church regulars to likely ease their pain from Leeza losing her ability to walk after being accidentally shot by the town drunk to Riley’s mother Annie (Kristin Lehman) wanting Riley to go to church again in the hopes that things will return to normal, there’s actually a lot of stories in Crockett that delve into the comfort and sense of direction that religion can offer.
The greatest comfort religion provides in Midnight Mass is within the eye-opening perspectives about death. The conversation between Riley and his childhood friend Erin (Kate Siegel) about death is easily one of the greatest moments of the series as it delves into one of humanity’s most challenging questions of “what happens when we die” with a sense of sincerity and care that makes it leave an impact on you. It brings forth this idea that maybe religion doesn’t provide exact answers but rather inspires thought and belief making things like death not as foreboding and fearful and instead creates a greater purpose in life.
When Flanagan touches on the positive aspects of religion with these characters he is really offering food for the heart and soul that broadens your views of life. When he decides to touch on the more damaging and destructive uses of religion, Midnight Mass’ real horrors come out. After Father Hill arrives and begins enchanting Crockett with his rapturous sermons and performance of a shocking miracle, the dark and powerful effects of belief come out in full force. The worst thing anyone in a position of religious power can do is prey on the vulnerabilities of their commune and that happens quickly within Midnight Mass. It’s absolutely sickening to watch Hill and the ever-loyal Bev’s grip tighten on those in Crockett and it’s crazy to see how far people are willing to go just because they want to believe. This power that both Hill and Bev gain is unbelievably destructive and it’s what makes the last two episodes a rollercoaster ride of horrifying thrills.
Flanagan builds the mysteries within Midnight Mass perfectly as there’s always another layer to characters that isn’t always on the surface. The whole concept behind Hill’s power and the mystery of his real reason for coming to Crockett are tantalizing from the start and continually blow your mind with reveals. As the layers pull further back on what evil force Hill has brought in his trunk and what his plans for Crockett are, you’re almost left in disbelief and Flanagan is so methodical in how he doles out each piece of information to each character. The way that Riley passes on Hill’s actual plans to Erin is thoroughly chilling and Hill’s Easter sermon leaves you catching your breath as you realize all the chaos that’s about to unfold. As it does, you’re simply left gripped to your seat wondering what everyone’s fate will be. Midnight Mass has one of the strongest finales I’ve ever seen and it’s not just because of how terrifying it is.
Sure, the amazingly designed vampiric threat that’s eventually introduced is instantly iconic and each scene with Hill adds new horrifying consequences that raise the stakes, but it’s the way the performances and writing come together in its big finale episodes that makes the character arcs and final story moments so powerful. Siegel is always a force in Flanagan’s work, and she continues that trend here as she adds some tender heart to Erin’s arc with Riley that ends with a beautiful final monologue that sets up Crockett’s fate perfectly. Sloyan’s performance shouldn’t go unnoticed as she’s undeniably devious as Bev and the way her insecurities about her beliefs drive her is fascinating to watch and she gets a deserved cruel end that will satisfy all.
Linklater’s performance and Hill’s arc are easily the highlights of this series outside everything with Riley and Linklater’s casting might be one of the best in decades. Linklater gives every breath of Hill’s sermons a realistic power that initially makes him a formidable opponent. However, he’s given a more complex story in the final two episodes that’s amazing to watch as it not only gives more purpose to him coming to Crockett and ingraining himself into the community, but also makes him more human and Linklater emphasizes that in his performance excellently. Even after everything he’s done in Crockett, Hill manages to snatch your heart. Honestly, every performance in Midnight Mass is award-worthy and it once again proves Flanagan’s talents as a director for the incredible casts he can bring together.
Midnight Mass is absolutely masterful with the level of narrative craftmanship that Flanagan shows in this devastating religious horror story that will leave you equally shook and emotionally fulfilled. If there were any doubts that Flanagan is the strongest modern master of horror working these days, he absolutely crushes them with Midnight Mass.
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