[Article] MIDNIGHT MASS and the Journey to Sobriety
Courtesy Netflix
MIDNIGHT MASS is the latest work of art from one of horror’s most visionary directors, Mike Flanagan. Having adapted Shirley Jackson’s famed novel, The Haunting of Hill House, followed by the Gothic series, The Haunting of Bly Manor, based on stories by author Henry James, Flanagan’s latest project, one that has been in the making for ten years, is most certainly his best but also his most personal.

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 of 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?

Recently, Nightmarish Conjurings was invited to the press junket for MIDNIGHT MASS. On hand was writer/director Mike Flanagan, as well as producer Trevor Macy, who were both kind enough to answer each and every question we had with heartfelt, thought-out answers, while also dodging the many spoilers that the series possesses.

MIDNIGHT MASS is filled with fascinating characters to dissect but for this interview, we focused on one character, in particular, Riley Flynn, a recovering alcoholic who returns to Crockett Island after completing a four-year prison sentence. The character is vulnerable, lost, and broken. He experiences visual reminders of the tragedy he caused. It’s no wonder that the character feels so real because it’s a part of Flanagan. In a way, it’s Flanagan’s road to recovery we were seeing unfold on screen. During the junket, Flanagan took the time to explain to us the emotional toll it took to revisit those moments, the catharsis that came from it, and how it helped with his own sobriety.

“I’m thrilled and grateful to talk about this actually because it’s very important, not only to the show but to me. It was very frightening to be vulnerable about it because I spent a lot of years in complete denial that I had an issue with alcohol. It was also incredibly cathartic because this was a chance to give voice to where I was in a number of steps along the way.

The show opens with anxiety that I think represented my biggest fear about my alcoholism, which wasn’t that I would ruin my marriage or my children or my career, or my friendships, all of which I was absolutely worried about. And it wasn’t that I would die in a horrible drunk driving accident, instead, I would kill someone else and live. That was the worst fear. That was the nightmare scenario. That was always the first scene of MIDNIGHT MASS, it was the first scene of the book, it was the first scene of the script, it was the first scene of every iteration of it. The first image of the Jesus fish on the back of the car pulling out into the car accident has never changed in every iteration of it. That fear was so baked into who I was. It was before I admitted just how bad of a problem it could be.

ZACH GILFORD as RILEY FLYNN in MIDNIGHT MASS Cr. EIKE SCHROTER/NETFLIX © 2021

We talk about how we took this show out in 2014 to try to sell it as a pitch. That was before I got sober, and I’m very glad that we didn’t make the show then because I don’t think I knew enough about what I was talking about to have executed the show properly. It’s a very different show with three years of sobriety behind me than it would have been before that. I feel like it would have been an incomplete conversation.

One of the things that struck me as I first tried to get sober was how integrated religion was with AA, in particular with the 12 steps. And I had a pretty complicated reaction to that. It’s a tricky thing to navigate. I looked into RR [Rational Recovery], which I thought was very fascinating, and you can’t skip rocks off meetings as we can with AA. They do have meetings. The literature is terrific and it was important enough that I wanted to get it into the show as an alternative because I didn’t like how recovery was so baked into what I perceived at the time as a required kind of acknowledgment of Christianity.

I think whatever works when it comes to sobriety is the right way to go, so I want to be very clear about that, but those conversations were so inseparable in my head that this show was always where they were just kind of dumped. It’s where they lived as a record of my perspective of sobriety and various points in my life, in the full grips of it, in the denial of it, and in the acceptance of it. I find it to be vulnerable but that’s something I’m proud to put out and put into the sunlight.

I only really was able to take a meaningful step towards sobriety when I heard other people’s stories, and this is something that AA is absolutely correct about. In particular, it was reading Stephen King’s words about his sobriety that were particularly inspiring to me, that actually helped me finally push it into being and so I’m beyond grateful to have a platform in case maybe somewhere down the line it can help someone else. That’s why I’m thrilled to talk about it.”

*On a personal note, as someone who has reached a decade of sobriety, Flanagan’s openness was a beautiful and moving moment. It’s a reminder that we don’t have to go through this alone. Thank you, Mike, for your willingness to share such a personal part of yourself. Your journey to this point has been immensely inspiring.*

All seven episodes of MIDNIGHT MASS will be available exclusively on Netflix on September 24, 2021. For more on MIDNIGHT MASS check out our spoiler-free review here.

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