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Netflix’s ‘Midnight Mass’ shocks with a stellar jolt of religious horror

Netflix’s ‘Midnight Mass’ shocks with a stellar jolt of religious horror

Netflix’s ‘Midnight Mass’ shocks with a stellar jolt of religious horror
October 04
18:49 2021

“Feels wrong, doesn’t it? To interrogate a miracle?”

Mike Flanagan has had a solid past five years with hits like both seasons of Netflix’s “The Hauntinganthology, the highly underrated “Doctor Sleep” and the tense “Gerald’s Game.” Now, “Midnight Mass” finds him in new territory as his first original project since 2016, a seven-episode miniseries explores a sleepy fishing community turned upside down by the arrival of a new priest, the cryptic Father Paul Hill (Hamish Linklater). The Father brings with him a series of apparent miracles, questions of faith and strange occurrences in the night. 

“Midnight Mass” may very well top every one of Flanagan’s previous efforts. Save for maybe “Hill House,” this is the horror auteur and his posse at their absolute sharpest. Every performance is engaging, each episode is paced just right and the story is Flanagan at his most provocative.

There is hardly a weak link in the cast, among the strongest of which is Linklater as Father Hill. A man as intriguing as he is unnerving, Linklater masterfully balances awkward charisma with genuine belief as the show peels back the layers of his very multi-faceted character. 

Opposite him as the central protagonists, Zach Gilford and Kate Siegel excel as Riley Flynn and Erin Greene, respectively. These two work off one another so well with Siegel’s warm, if troubled performance bringing joy out of Gilford’s penitent pariah and vice versa. Their arcs are interwoven seamlessly with the central exploration of religious doubt and their narrative trajectory is devastatingly poignant.

Others like Rahul Kohli and Samantha Sloyan grip the spotlight whenever they’re on screen. As the Muslim sheriff Hassan, Kohli plays a very sympathetic, intelligent character who navigates a rather cold and skeptical community. Sloyan’s Bev Keane serves as his thematic opponent, a zealot whose underhanded actions show religious fervor at its most self-serving and unhinged.

Flanagan also excels in his direction, At this point, he’s mastered imbuing his worlds with a sense of tragic decay and burning humanity. Crockett Island is among his most memorable, with this real sense of a lived-in community whose halcyon days are long behind them. The daytime reveals sun-bleached wood-plank houses and at night the town has this nice contrast between the orange-lit town and the uninhabited shore. 

The story is also Flanagan’s most ambitious, building off the gothic drama of his “Haunting” duo and the penitent horror of  “Doctor Sleep.” The introspection on faith and what it means is threaded through multiple characters of differing views, each bringing something to the table. It’s an intelligent analysis that dissects fervor, the justification of religion for atrocities and its own power for healing.    

Musically, the Newton Brothers return with a mix of atmospheric licensed tracks and an enrapturing original score. While ethereal may be an overused description for gospel music, the Newtons’ mix of wailing and hymns are ethereal in every sense of the word — graceful and almost otherworldly despite the human choir.  

Now, “Midnight Mass” isn’t perfect per se. Each episode, save for the pilot, runs over an hour and is dialogue-heavy. The second half isn’t lacking scares or horror but its a slow burn relying on how invested the audience is in its characters. As superbly developed as the characters are, some get less focus than others. There are aspects and threads deserving of expansion and tightening in favor of a sleeker product. 

For example, there’s a disabled character whose arc interweaves with an alcoholic responsible for her disability. It pays off in a beautifully bitter confrontation, but the former character lacks real presence in the plot afterward until the finale. Characters also take part in concealing a crime and while it fits the theme, their participation is a bit sudden. 

The finale is also somewhat clunky in execution, with Flanagan and company stretching their budget too far to mixed effect. A solid story can outweigh its technical inadequacies, although. 

“Midnight Mass” is undeniably Mike Flanagan for better and for worse. He continues his talent for human horror and intelligent drama, even if he’s imprecise in some aspects. Still, for those willing to convert, “Midnight Mass” is an enthralling meditation on humanity’s relationship with religion and how it changes the lives of everyone it touches, for good and for bad. 

Will’s final rating: 4.25/5 

Image source: Netflix

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Will Tarpley

Will Tarpley

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