Midnight Mass delivers in performance, production

Known for “The Haunting of Hill House,” “The Haunting of Bly Manor,” Make Flanagan excels again

Mike Flanagan is easily one of the best directors working in the horror genre today. Starting off with the independent films “Absentia,” “Oculus,” “Hush” and “Before I Wake,” he later moved on to the mainstream with “Ouija: Origin of Evil.” Although the film had a pretty small budget of roughly $10 million, it was both a critical and financial success, especially compared to its 2014 predecessor “Ouija” (which was critically panned). His success continued once he made “Gerald’s Game,” an adaptation of the Stephen King novel of the same name, and then later returned to King’s material with 2019’s “Doctor Sleep.”

However, Mike Flanagan is probably more well known for his miniseries “The Haunting of Hill House,” a reinterpretation of Shirley Jackson’s novel of the same name; due to its success, it was followed up by “The Haunting of Bly Manor,” which adapted the Henry James story “The Turn of the Screw” while also incorporating a good amount of his other stories.

But after all of that, we finally got the story that Mike Flanagan had wanted to tell for many, many years: “Midnight Mass.”

The seven-episode Netflix miniseries follows a young man named Riley, a prodigal son of sorts who returns to his small, religious island town. Meanwhile, a new priest arrives in the town, with the ability to seemingly grant miracles to his followers… but there’s a price.

As a fan of Flanagan’s, I knew that this was definitely going to be something special, and it didn’t disappoint. The performances were all great, especially those of Hamish Linklater and Kate Siegel (a Mike Flanagan regular, who also happens to be his wife). The production design really made this town feel like a real place.

The only issue I have is with some of the writing. The film heavily deals with religious themes, and while the writing is pretty fantastic, some monologues feel very transparent. These moments make the characters sound less like characters and more like vessels for Mike Flanagan. However, like I said, I thought the writing was mostly fantastic, and the monologuing is relatively rare. But it’s still annoying whenever it happens.

Speaking of religion, the ideas presented are really fascinating. I am pretty tired of the trope of religion being inherently evil, and it’s seen quite a bit in horror. As a religious man, I don’t believe that religion is evil, however I recognize the large amount of corruption in numerous religious institutions, as well as the fact that many leaders have a habit of picking and choosing what to follow from the Bible. “Midnight Mass” does a great job of showing that religion isn’t the problem, but in fact religious zealots are.

Not only that, but it shows how people can see anything and twist it into something holy or make it seem like it is part of scripture. I’m being vague, as I don’t want to spoil the show, but I really like how the show deals with faith.

The biggest issue that Flanagan fans may have with it is the horror itself. When comparing “Midnight Mass” to his previous work, it’s not all that scary. Determining whether or not something is scary is pretty subjective, so some people will definitely find this miniseries to be a lot more terrifying than I do. However, I just don’t find “Midnight Mass” to be as visceral as “The Haunting of Hill House.” This isn’t just referring to the jumpscares. I normally find jumpscares to be a cheap horror tactic, but Flanagan is a director who makes them work. “The Haunting of Hill House” in particular uses them to great effect, not only because the scares are unexpected, but also because what’s jumpscaring the audience is itself pretty creepy. Plus, it knows when to rely on jumpscares and when to rely on subtlety.

“Midnight Mass” still has jumpscares, and they are effective, but it is not like “The Haunting of Hill House.” It’s much slower, and while I found it to be fascinating, others may consider it to be slow and borderline pretentious. Besides, I feel like the show still has a lot of scary ideas presented throughout. Without spoiling anything, there are moments that are pretty creepy.

Another aspect of “Midnight Mass” that fascinates me is how long Flanagan had been wanting to make it. Hell, he even hid Easter eggs for the project in his older works. In the film “Hush,” the main character is an author whose most successful book was called “Midnight Mass,” and if you pause the film on a shot of the novel’s back cover, you can see that the blurb perfectly describes the show’s main hook. Even in “Gerald’s Game,” we can see a copy of “Midnight Mass” on a table. In a 2021 guest essay on Bloody-Disgusting.com, Flanagan revealed that it was a project that he had wanted to make for many years due to his own experiences with Catholicism and alcoholism.

Overall, “Midnight Mass” is a pretty fantastic miniseries that I highly recommend to fans of slow-paced horror. In spite of some problems with exposition and its lack of visceral scares, it is an emotional and intelligent story about faith.


Rating: 9/10