Just finished MIDNIGHT MASS on Netflix, and WOW. If you’re looking for a brilliant horror story that also serves up a powerful analysis of religious belief, you should stop reading this dumb review and start binge-watching now.
If you’re still with me, here goes: MIDNIGHT MASS is the creation of Mike Flanagan, one of the creators of THE HAUNTING OF HILL HOUSE, which I also enjoyed. In this story, a mysterious priest arrives at a declining fishing island to take over a Catholic church, but he’s not alone. Soon, miracles and deaths start occurring, forcing the ensemble cast of locals to choose sides in what some seems as a spiritual war and others as a threat to the entire world.
Flanagan gets pretty much everything about this miniseries right. As a creator, he often leans heavily on theme, and MIDNIGHT MASS is no exception. The theme here is the search for meaning in life when all things die, how this affects people differently in good and bad ways, and the struggle to know an all-powerful God that seems to be unknowable. I tackled a lot of these themes in my novel THE CHILDREN OF RED PEAK, and while I went for it and produced something I believe is at least thoughtful, Flanagan utterly dominated it. His script contains these long, wonderful monologues that are really meditations and shaded views on purpose, meaning, life after death, and more. He overdoes the expository dialogue at times, but I didn’t mind as it’s good stuff.
I’ve always been fascinated by this theme, which is a tough one to tackle right: the question of whether life has any inherent meaning if death is final, and the question of whether a higher power is guiding us to a higher purpose. I’ve always felt if you strip out the human longing and projection, take out the idea that God has a paternal love for each and every one of us, God is actually a source of cosmic horror, an all-powerful being that inflicts great suffering and occasionally helps us based on its plan and that maybe can be appeased with the right behavior and sacrifices. Flanagan shows us all this and makes us feel it while being respectful to all sides of the conversation. Flanagan asks the question, and the characters provide a multitude of answers.
Back to the show… The acting is terrific, with some familiar faces from previous Flanagan works like Kate Siegel, and led by Hamish Linklater, whom I’d only seen previously in THE BIG SHORT. Playing Father Paul, he chews the scenery and absolutely dominates every scene he’s in. Paul is such a greater character, a deeply spiritual and religious man who is at heart good but who deludes himself into interpreting a great evil into something miraculous and Godly. Bev is another great character, a very religious and proper lady who uses her religion to justify her prejudices and spite, and who has a Bible verse to rationalize pretty much anything she wants to do. All the characters are great, in fact, all of them feeling real without the usual “small town stock” cast. The show has been compared to Stephen King’s work, which is justifiable as we have a small town of good, plain folks encountering and seduced by a great evil, but Flanagan goes so much farther with character and theme that in my view he comes out ahead in a league entirely his own.
I could go on, the terrific horror element, the absolutely terrific bloody climax, the organic and realistic pacing, etc. Suffice to say, I thought MIDNIGHT MASS was brilliant and loved it, another example of the golden age of television we’re currently in.