Review: 'Midnight Mass' More than Horror; It's a Masterpiece

by Kevin Taft

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Monday September 20, 2021

'Midnight Mass'
'Midnight Mass'  (Source:Netflix)

After a healthy decade-long career in movies and TV, writer/director Mike Flanagan has crafted his best project yet with "Midnight Mass." The 7-episode limited Netflix series premiering September 24th is billed as a horror show, but in all truth it is first and foremost an ensemble drama with horrific elements sprinkled in. Despite a few highly effective jump scares in early episodes, the true horror doesn't really occur until the final few episodes, where it culminates in a disturbing bloodbath of truly epic proportions. At that point we've grown to care about so many of Flanagan's characters that every tragedy is heartbreaking.

But in that heartbreak is a profound insight into life and death. Flanagan finds the humanity in the horror and that is what makes his new show so powerful.

I'd argue that "The Haunting of Hill House" was pretty close to perfection as well, with epic monologues and characters and emotions that overshadowed the horror in the best of ways. But here, there is just something more.

The story Flanagan has created is full of treats and surprises that will not be spoiled here, so this reviewer will dance around much of the plot. But that's okay. You want to go along for the ride and discover it along with the rest of the world.

The action takes place on Crockett Island, a small fishing town off the mainland with a handful of inhabitants that all know each other and all live in tinderbox houses that have been around for decades. There's not much to do on the island except go to church, drink, and hang out on your porch. The town has two tiny schools, one for older kids and one for the younger set, and one church run by Monsignor Pruitt. However, Pruitt has left town to go to Jerusalem, and has not returned.

Enter Father Paul (Hamish Linklater), a charismatic priest with a warm and genial persona that surprises the town, but also excites them. Father Paul explains that Pruitt is ill and is resting, and he will be taking over in his absence.

Meanwhile, thirty-something Riley (Zach Gilford) returns to the island after a five-year stint in prison for involuntary manslaughter when he killed a teenage girl while driving drunk. Newly sober, he rejoins his mother (Kristin Lehman) and father (Henry Thomas) and younger brother (Igby Rigney) in their small coastal home.

He runs into old friend and sweetheart, Erin Greene (Katie Siegal), the soft-spoken schoolteacher who returned to town after an abusive marriage. Pregnant, and having just lost her mother, Erin is navigating her new life the best she can, and Riley's arrival offers some familiar comfort.

Among the other characters we get to know is Bev Keane (Samantha Sloyan), the schoolteacher for the younger kids and the Monsignor's right-hand woman. She is the stereotypical goody-two shoes, a God fearing, God-loving, buttoned-up spinster endlessly spouting passages from the Bible and asserting her moral authority over the entire town. And she is terrific in all the worst ways.

There's also the new sheriff ,Ali Hassaon (Rahul Kohli), and his son (Rahul Abburi), whose curiosity about the only church in town doesn't sit well with his Muslim father. Meanwhile, local (sort of loveable) drunk Joe Crowley (Robert Longstreet) is dealing with accidentally shooting a local girl, resulting in her losing the ability to walk.

All these characters, and more, are introduced and welcomed episode after episode, as the mysteries of the new monsignor and the preternatural events subtly occurring around town culminate in an episode so disturbing it's devastating to watch.

Flanagan places his characters front and center, with the horror surrounding them as the story evolves. He utilizes his frequent monologues to excellent effect, drawing us in to his characters in ways not often seen on television (or movies, for that matter.) He cares about these people so much that we can't help but care about them in return.

What is fascinating is that "Midnight Mass" is an exploration of religion — both the good and the bad. It's damning of organized religion for sure (but not blatantly so), but also explores the warmth and comfort it can bring to those that need it. He never sides with either, allowing the audience to understand the myriad of ways religion can affect the people that get involved with it. The series touches on cult behavior, moral responsibility, ethics, and how easily it can be to get wrapped up in something you so desperately believe in, but that can be so damaging to everyone around you. It's enormously riveting, and works like gangbusters.

For those expecting consistent horror like "Hill House," or even Flanagan's "Doctor Sleep," they may need to gather some patience. While there is horror sprinkled in here and there, the first three episodes lean heavily on the drama. But this makes the horror all the more potent when things go terribly, terribly bad.

But in that, there is beauty. Flanagan's writing is so lovely and perfect that he captures moments of truth that are striking. The last monologue of the show — from a character we've grown to deeply care about — is one of the most beautiful soliloquies I've ever heard. It is breathtaking and profound in ways I wasn't expecting.

Flanagan's writing is inspired and inspiring; I can't wait to see what he does next.

"Midnight Mass" is an elegant slow burn that culminates in true, gut-wrenching horror that will have you weeping and awed all the same. This is Flanagan's masterpiece.

All seven episodes of "Midnight Mass" premiere on Netlfix September 24th.

Kevin Taft is a screenwriter/critic living in Los Angeles with an unnatural attachment to 'Star Wars' and the desire to be adopted by Steven Spielberg.