MIDNIGHT MASS is an original limited series ten years in the making from horror filmmaker, Mike Flanagan, and it is outstanding. The name will seem familiar to fans of his work, having been the title of the debut novel of Maddie in Flanagan’s Hush. It is also the book that Jessie flings at the dog in Gerald’s Game. What was once just an Easter Egg is now a living breathing, philosophically horrific wonder from the filmmaker. While a select handful may be turned off by the philosophical and religious thematic subject matter interwoven throughout the series, there is much to chew on that we must all partake in. It is an experience that none of us should miss.
MIDNIGHT MASS stars Zach Gilford, Hamish Linklater, Kate Siegel, Rahul Abburi, Crystal Balint, Matt Biedel, Alex Essoe, Annarah Cymone, Annabeth Gish, Rahul Kohli, Kristin Lehman, Robert Longstreet, Igby Rigney, Samantha Sloyan, Henry Thomas, and Michael Trucco.
To save from spoiling much of the plot (and there is a lot that could be spoiled), I’m going to refer to the synopsis provided by Netflix: “MIDNIGHT MASS tells the tale of a small, isolated island community whose existing divisions are amplified by the return of a disgraced young man (Zach Gilford) and the arrival of a charismatic priest (Hamish Linklater). When Father Paul’s appearance on Crockett Island coincides with unexplained and seemingly miraculous events, a renewed religious fervor takes hold of the community – but do these miracles come at a price?”
As I sit here contemplating how to tackle arranging my thoughts on MIDNIGHT MASS, I am left grasping at the air trying to find the right words. Yet, I find myself completely baffled as to what words would truly pin down all that this series is. I’ll give it my best try, though. Flanagan has always had a knack for exploring the depths within characters, providing a necessary well-roundedness that is any creative’s dream to bring to life. This series is no different. The same can be said for how enriching Flanagan’s exploration of themes is for the general viewer. We’ve seen this best depicted in recent years with The Haunting of Hill House and The Haunting of Bly Manor series, series that allowed Flanagan to learn and perfect everything in which viewers will experience in his latest piece. MIDNIGHT MASS has much to say about the human experience, especially in relation to morality, religion, personal accountability, and more. A thoughtful, intellectual series, no words can truly describe how with each episode we’ll be left with our thoughts long after the credits roll. These heavy topics touched upon in the series could have easily gone sideways, but there’s a personal care taken that grounds and supports what we are to take in. Hat’s off to Flanagan for that.
Touching further upon the writing, MIDNIGHT MASS possesses the kind of material actors dream of. With some of the conversations that take place onscreen, it appears delivered via monologues. These instances give this ensemble cast ample opportunity to give the audience a glimpse into the psychology of their character and room to showcase the handling of the material provided. There’s not a single poor performance given. With that said, there are notable standouts among the cast. Hamish Linklater’s Father Paul has a charisma and wisdom that both draws you in and terrifies. The kind of leader that you can easily see why anyone would willfully follow every word said. Linklater makes deft work of the material, munching the scenery and drawing all eyes to him. Zach Gilford’s Riley is heartbreaking. A man weighed heavily by guilt, the audience will be hard-pressed not to want to reach through the screen and give him a hug. Samantha Sloyan’s Bev is truly the one to hate. The true personification of religious hypocrisy, we all know the type of woman Bev is. A role that could have easily become a caricature in less capable hands, Sloyan will be the one many get pulled in by in this series.
Crockett Island is an entire character in itself. While the community is decaying inside and out, the Island’s serenity is captured by Michael Fimognari’s camerawork. Sweeping overshot views capture the inherent beauty that remains despite the repeated disasters that have afflicted its waters and inhabitants. Production Designer Steve Arnold has created a grounded, realistic feel for the isolated Island lifestyle that some may recognize from fishermen communities. Art Director Laurin Kelsey, Supervising Art Director Andrew Li, and the overall Art Department execute Arnold’s vision with care, creating a streamlined cohesiveness that captures the aesthetic required for the setting.
By series end, viewers will be left full and rendered speechless from this full course meal Flanagan has offered to us. Like large meals, there will be time needed to fully digest what has been witnessed. A meal so rich and layered in complexity needs time to be properly savored. Once we’ve sat with it, though, the true extent of the gift we’ve been given will be realized. This decade-long project in the making is a triumph. A culmination of everything Flanagan has gained and learned throughout his career, the time and care taken reverberates onscreen. MIDNIGHT MASS is the filmmaker at his most vulnerable and most introspective. A bleak, macabre, yet hopeful work wrapped up in a burning bright package, this is Flanagan’s masterpiece. Do not miss MIDNIGHT MASS.
All seven episodes of MIDNIGHT MASS will be available exclusively on Netflix on September 24, 2021. As a general disclaimer to those concerned about animal death and violence, the series does have that.
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