Mike Flanagan’s Midnight Mass is out in its entirety on Netflix and despite a few bumps along the way, the series is a bit of a master work from the writer/director who is out there on his own for the first time in a long time.
It’s the first time since 2017 after all that the writer/director has brought an entirely original story to life–though some might argue his Haunting series went somewhere beyond the realm of true adaptation. He has become known as a worthy interpreter of the stories of Stephen King, Shirley Jackson, and Henry James, but where does that leave Flanagan, himself?
If Midnight Mass is any indication, he has undoubtedly been influenced by those authors, and particularly King, but there is something so raw and honest about this series that it ultimately feels like something fresh and original.
Set in a small, island village, the story takes up when Riley Flynn (Zach Gilford) returns home after serving time in prison for an accident while he was driving drunk that resulted in the death of a young woman. Fresh off the boat and clearly uncomfortable in his own skin, Riley is not the man his parents or friends remember.
He spent his time in prison looking for God and came up wanting. He chafes at the religious convictions of his family and his fellow villagers, a feeling exacerbated by the actions of a young, new priest (Hamish Linklater) whose arrival is heralded by strange miracles and events that border on the terrifying.
Much like Flanagan’s previous work, Midnight Mass is a character-driven story and as such, he piles on the talent bringing in familiar faces from his former projects–Henry Thomas, Alex Essoe, Rahul Kohli, Samantha Sloyan, Annabeth Gish, and of course his wife, the highly talented Kate Siegel–along with a host of new actors who will no doubt work with the director again.
Sloyan, in particular, gives a harrowing performance as Bev. An acolyte of the local church and of the new priest, Bev is Annie Wilkes with the religious convictions of Mrs. Carmody. She is the opposite of Riley in almost every way, the perfect foil for his doubt. She has enough belief for everyone on the island. She drinks so deeply from her cup of religious fervor that it colors her every interaction. When she says things that ultimately hurt the people around her, it’s okay because she is only trying to save them from damnation.
Then there’s Rahul Kohli as Sheriff Hassan. He and his son, Ali (Rahul Abburi), stand out perhaps even more than Riley in their village. It’s not that they don’t believe in the new priest’s message. They have a different faith entirely, a point that causes no end of suspicion from their neighbors. The pressure of that difference comes to light as miracles begin to happen and Ali, especially, decides that he just wants to belong and be like everyone else.
Siegel as Erin Greene is a force to be reckoned with, even at her most vulnerable. Erin is the middle ground, caught somewhere between belief and doubt. She lives in that place where most of us do, trying to figure out who we are and what we believe from one moment to the next, adapting to the next challenge as it comes. For her, temptation is possibility, stability, and the chance to be seen for who she really is, regardless whether you love that person or not.
And of course, there’s Gilford and Linklater. Two sides to the same coin, watching these two men spar as they debate ideas is one of the best parts of this series. The fact that both waver makes them human. The fact that both fail, makes them likable, and that is one of the most effective elements of Midnight Mass.
Still, while the character work here is excellent, Flanagan and the series stumble from time to time.
For starters, anyone who is familiar with the writer/director’s projects knows that he loves a good monologue, and in his career he has given us several good ones. However, here, they border on being too much, wavering somewhere between speeches and actual sermons.
Sadly, nearly every one of them grinds the action of the story to a near-halt. While they are delivered beautifully by the actors, they fall somewhere in the no-man’s-land between an info-dump and extraneous filler. There is meat, but it is sparing, and I could not help but think that if he’d simply cut one or two down by a third, it would have been just as emotionally impactful without killing the story’s momentum.
Then, there’s the obvious aging make-up used on nearly every single “older” character that verges on giving away the story from the beginning. I won’t go into that much more because I don’t want to spoil the series, but it was heavy-handed and if it had been handled in another way, it might not have seemed so much like a hat-tip to the audience.
Otherwise, Midnight Mass is everything one could hope for from a Mike Flanagan production that draws comparisons between religion and addiction in perhaps the most non-judgmental manner imaginable. His influences are plain, but he uses them so beautifully they’re forgivable. His characters are layered and human and monstrous. His setting is gorgeous and stark, and his scares–and believe me there are terrifying and horrible things that happen in the show–are subtle, built beautifully on carefully cultivated tension.
You can binge Midnight Mass on Netflix right now! Check out the trailer below if you haven’t seen it and let us know your thoughts!