“Midnight Mass” feels like a Stephen King novel but marches through the likes of monster movies and religious trauma.
The limited series, created and directed by Mike Flanagan, features the citizens of the island town of Crockett after the return of ex-convict Riley Flynn, played by Zach Gilford, after a lengthy time away from his home island. Flynn reconnects with many citizens of the island whom he remembers from his childhood. One of these friends is Erin Greene, played by Katie Siegel, a former love and one of the island’s schoolteachers. Overshadowing his arrival is the expected return of the town’s Catholic priest, Monsignor John Pruitt, but when Pruitt doesn’t return on the ferry, the doting church leader Beverly Keane, played by Samantha Sloyan, becomes concerned. Come Sunday, St. Patrick’s on the island is greeted to Father Paul Hill, played by Hamish Linklater, who tells the members of the church that the Catholic Church has sent him since Monsignor Pruitt has fallen ill. Soon after Hill’s arrival, strange things begin happening on the island and the citizens of Crockett begin suspecting both the best and the worst in life.
“Midnight Mass” has all the charm and flair of Stephen King’s masterworks. It has so many hints of stories like “Pet Sematary,” “Carrie,” “Misery,” and “The Shining,” that I was almost convinced that it was based on a Stephen King novel, or at the very least a book. “Midnight Mass” is a Netflix original and it’s really a masterclass in original content, something that is severely lacking in the film and television world.
The themes of religious trauma and religious criticism are saturated throughout. From the very first scene, the show’s critical take on organized religion and belief itself is noted by the inciting incident of Riley Flynn’s imprisonment. Immediately after he kills a girl while on a drunk bender, he begins reciting the Lord’s Prayer which prompts the first responder to ask him, “While you’re at it, ask him why the kids die but not the drunk assholes.” The poignant nature of this question is one shared by many, although maybe not in such crass clothing.
The show’s horror elements are presented in a way that feels genuine. Sequences with “jump scares” are carried out in such a way that they are set up by clear tension and release. The show’s lean into the tried-and-true “town horror” is a fresh take on the concept. There are moments where the show’s inspirations come right to the forefront. The uncomfortable scenes where tension is built up through a religious ceremony begins to feel like something out of “Silent Hill” or “Shadow Over Innsmouth.”
Those things being stated, the show does have a downfall in the form of its endgame. The rising action moving towards the show’s finale is quite good but as we get closer and closer, the show starts to fall short. This is unfortunate because the show’s first four or so episodes are incredibly unique and engaging.
“Midnight Mass” is a treasure on the streaming service. If it were possible for the show to have a season two (those that watch the show will understand), I’d be begging for it. With such a smash hit, I’d expect to see more from Flanagan. A new master of horror has entered the scene.
“Midnight Mass” receives an A rating.