MIDNIGHT MASS Review: Mike Flanagan Delivers A Sublime, Harrowing Exploration Of Faith & Fanaticism
Midnight Mass hits Netflix on September 24, and this latest supernatural tale from Mike Flanagan (The Haunting of Hill House, Hush, Doctor Sleep) might be the filmmaker's strongest work to date.
Mike Flanagan is widely considered to be one of the greatest horror creators working today, and with good reason. From early features Absentia and Hush to recent Stephen King adaptations Gerald's Game and Doctor Sleep, and, of course, Netflix's Haunting of Hill House and Bly Manor, Flanagan has proven to be adept at crafting an effective scare while ensuring audiences are fully invested in his characters.
Midnight Mass is a story Flanagan has wanted to tell for over a decade, and he's called it the “best thing I never made" when asked about the Easter eggs that have popped up in some of his previous projects. Now, it's finally here, and not only was it well worth the wait, but he can proudly start referring to it as best thing he ever made.
Crockett Island is home to a quiet (one character describes it as "so sleepy it might as well be dead"), isolated, and devoutly religious community whose everyday routine is disrupted by the unexpected arrival of two men: Riley Flynn (Zach Gilford), who is returning to his childhood home after a lengthy prison sentence, and Father Paul (Hamish Linklater), a charismatic priest who claims to have been sent as a replacement for the island's elderly and ailing Monsignor. As the now agnostic Riley reconnects with his family and teenage love Erin (Kate Siegel) in an attempt to put his past behind him and find some kind of purpose, Paul captivates his parishioners as a series of seemingly miraculous events ignites a volatile religious fervour.
It's hardly a spoiler to clarify that something supernatural is afoot (the synopsis and trailers make that pretty clear, after all), and while these elements are certainly creepy and unsettling in their own right, the real terror is very human and all too familiar.
Flanagan delves into the oldest mysterious and myths, asking what compels a person to cling so tightly to their ideology, while exploring how blind devotion can lead to zealotry. Though the series is very much a rebuke of fanaticism, it has no interest in mocking anyone's religious beliefs. Indeed, Flanagan appears to be just as concerned with depicting the peace and comfort an individual's faith can bring as long as they're open-minded and accepting of others. Erin, in particular, remains steadfast and draws great strength from her convictions, even through unimaginable strain.
These Netflix shows can often feel unnecessarily drawn-out, but Midnight Mass only gets more engrossing as it progresses, retaining its vice-like grip right to the end. This is due in no small part to the excellent cast, and while Linklater will likely earn most of the plaudits (and deservedly so), he's given outstanding support. Gilford and Siegel excel as the main protagonists, with Rahul Kohli bringing warmth and steely determination to his understandably conflicted lawman, Sheriff Hasan. The other standout is Samantha Sloyan, who gives a genuinely unnerving performance as Bev Keane - the real monster in this tale.
As the big mysteries unravel and the inevitable conclusion draws near, you might find yourself seeking answers that never come. This may be by design, but some are bound to view certain omissions as "plot holes." This is not a criticism, necessarily, and it's difficult to elaborate without getting into spoilers, so let's just say certain aspects of the show might prove to be divisive.
And yet, perhaps it's fitting that a story about the dangers of blind faith asks for some suspension of disbelief.
Midnight Mass is a powerful, devastating contemplation on life, death, faith, human nature, and the things that drive us all forward - even in the face of insurmountable darkness. It's not always an easy watch, but it is a rewarding one. Be
not afraid, be heartbroken, and be (somehow) uplifted by Mike Flanagan's most profound work to date.