There’s everlasting reward in sitting through Mike Flanagan’s TV horror service
There’s a sleepy coastal town that time seems to have left behind, full of blue-collar Americans, who find themselves suddenly navigating the supernatural. No, it’s not a Stephen King story. It’s Netflix’s new limited horror series Midnight Mass from writer/director Mike Flanagan.
Flying high after The Haunting of Hill House and his adaptation of Doctor Sleep, Flanagan might as well be adapting this latest series from a King story with how deeply it homages everything from Salem’s Lot to The Mist. He gets a pass because he pretty much is the defacto Stephen King adaptation golden goose.
Midnight Mass packs a lot into just seven hour-long episodes, including the triumphant return of Zach Gilford (Friday Night Lights) to television and about five million lengthy monologues.
Flanagan is no stranger to working miracles behind the camera. He filmed the unfilmable Gerald’s Game and gave us a trip of a flashback to the Overlook Hotel in Doctor Sleep. So it’s no surprise that Midnight Mass should be its own little miraculous meditation on communal morality, death, and the afterlife.
The story follows the past fall from grace of Riley Flynn (Gilford) who went to prison for killing a young woman while drunk driving. After time served, he returns home as a hardened atheist to his family in the small island town of Crocket. It’s a community dominated by its Catholic tradition, one in no hurry to catch up to the rest of the world. There are fishermen and…well, there are fishermen.
Riley returns just in time to reconnect with his childhood crush Erin (Kate Siegel), who’s having her own existential crisis. He attends church just as a new, mysterious priest named Father Paul (Hamish Linklater) suddenly takes over for its elderly Monsignor. It’s totally not suspicious at all.
Weird things start happening after a major storm hits the island. Hundreds of dead cats wash up on shore and people start disappearing. Maybe there’s something out there. Or maybe issues have been brewing among the locals all along. Maybe both those things are true and they will factor into who lives and dies.
The series is full of the customary Netflix horror series twists and turns. Thanks to its insisting on paying homage to King, it starts to feel a little predictable. The plot also hinges on a preposterous misidentification of a creature that is already the fodder of a spoilery Buzzfeed meme listicle.
Those spoilers might dominate conversation about this series now, but it will have staying power beyond that because of its dedication to letting its characters monologue their way through finding understanding in their loved ones and themselves.
It can sometimes feel like an episode is on hold while a given character talks off the ear of another, but in these moments that Midnight Mass becomes something more than your run-of-the-mill bingeable amusement in the streaming age. When I think back to The Haunting of Hill House, what springs to mind isn’t the jump scares, but rather Nell Crain’s devastating “the rest is confetti” monologue.
Midnight Mass might feel like sitting through an unrelenting church service at times, but the reward is everlasting.