BE NOT AFRAID.
In 2014, Mike Flanagan was not the renowned horror director we know now. He had an idea for a TV show that he was pitching, but nobody wanted to do it. Midnight Mass had been with him all his life. The first attempt was to write a novel, then a screenplay; after getting a thumbs-down from Netflix on his Midnight Mass pitch, Flanagan still begin a successful collaboration with the streamer, resulting in several movies and the acclaimed anthology series The Haunting. Finally, the time came when Netflix couldn’t say no to Midnight Mass. It became Flanagan’s best project to date.
Going home to Crockett Island
Riley Flynn’s (Zach Gilford) life changed on the night when he killed a young woman in a drunk-driving accident. He sat there on the road watching attempts to have her resuscitated fail – now he’s haunted by her every night before falling asleep. After serving four years in prison, Riley goes home to Crockett Island, the place where he was born and where his family still lives. He meets his teenage sweetheart, Erin Greene (Kate Siegel), who now works as a teacher on the island, but he initially resists going to church; his mother (Kristin Lehman) may be a believer, but Riley has lost his faith.
At the same time, father Paul Hill (Hamish Linklater) arrives at St. Patrick’s Church, temporarily replacing Monsignor Pruitt who has fallen ill while traveling. Paul realizes that he has to earn the trust of the congregation, but there’s also a secret agenda behind his arrival…
Flanagan’s most personal story
Each episode gets its title from the Bible, and this is certainly a story best enjoyed if you like your horror religiously tinged. It is Flanagan’s most personal story to date. As a child he was an altar boy who one day read the Bible and was horrified to learn all the atrocities that make up the Old Testament; he spent much of his childhood on an island (in fact, Governors Island in New York); and he’s struggled with alcoholism. Combine those parts with Flanagan’s never-ending fascination with horror in general and Stephen King in particular and it’s no wonder that it all boils down to Midnight Mass.
When I first saw the Netflix trailer for this miniseries, I decided to skip it but I’m glad I gave it a second chance. As in Flanagan’s The Haunting, the story takes its time unfolding, one of the most negative aspects of current limited series that due to streaming services’ demand to hook audiences for as much time as possible stretch stories out as much as they can. That bloated feeling is obvious also in this case, but not much. In fact, some of the series’ most dialogue-heavy scenes are among the best, especially a poignant, moving conversation between Riley and Erin on the meaning of heaven, a moment that beautifully sets up what’s to come.
The series takes a few episodes before we catch on to its secrets, a revelation skillfully staged in the third episode where we learn what happened to Monsignor Pruitt and what kind of danger awaits Crockett Island. In his fascination with the church, Flanagan goes deep and examines the arguments of both atheism and faith, portraying frightening fanaticism and supernatural terrors. The series also delivers in terms of horror, creating a nemesis straight out of hell, unsurprisingly strengthening Flanagan’s bond with Stephen King and one of his best novels from the 1970s.
A terrific cast is led by a darkly charismatic Linklater as a man on a very different mission from that of his predecessor. For the score, the Newton Brothers adapted and arranged several classic hymns in strikingly solemn, powerful ways.
Midnight Mass 2021-U.S. Made for TV. 452 min. Color. Created and directed by Mike Flanagan. Music: The Newton Brothers. Cast: Hamish Linklater (Paul Hill), Kate Siegel (Erin Greene), Zach Gilford (Riley Flynn), Kristin Lehman, Samantha Sloyan, Rahul Kohli… Annabeth Gish, Henry Thomas, Carla Gugino.
Trivia: Originally shown in seven episodes.
Last word: “I wasn’t in a place where I could handle the material until now. I was writing about alcoholism but wasn’t yet sober; I was writing about atheism, but I hadn’t gotten over my anger. I’ve had some beautiful revelations.” (Flanagan on why waiting to get the series produced was a good thing, The New York Times)