If the pandemic has taught us anything (besides the fact that we touch our faces way too damn much), it’s that Netflix binges are where it’s at. Enter Netflix’s horror heavyweight Mike Flanagan, who has been beefing up the platform’s spooky catalog with consistently beloved frights for years; with Hush (2016), Gerald’s Game (2017), The Haunting of Hill House Series (2018), and The Haunting of Bly Manor Series (2020).
In his latest, seven-part miniseries Midnight Mass, Flanagan churns his Stephen King-loving sensibilities into an original small-town saga that was birthed of his own twisted mind. We know Flanagan loves playing in King’s Castle Rock wheelhouse, but all the while he’s been brewing his own little haven of horrors; Crockett Island.
Midnight Mass primarily follows the troubled Riley Flynn (Zach Gilford, The Purge: Anarchy), who returns to his parents’ home in the isolated town of Crockett Island. Runs home, rather; he’s on parole and still reeling from causing the death of a young woman while driving under the influence of alcohol, having to return to the mainland on one of the two daily ferries off the island for court-mandated AA meetings every week.
Crockett is a fishing town, though its residents are dwindling after an oil spill several years back diminished the fish supply. The few residents each a small puzzle piece that makes up a functioning community; Schoolteacher Erin Greene (Kate Siegel, Hush), Sheriff Hassan (Rahul Kohli, The Haunting of Bly Manor), Doctor Sarah Gunning (Annabeth Gish, Halt and Catch Fire), town drunk Joe Collie (Robert Longstreet, Halloween Kills), and religious zealot Bev Keene (Samantha Sloyan, The Haunting of Hill House) — to name a few.
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And when I say Crockett Island is a small town, I mean it. There are less than 200 residents, total. Sheriff Hassan’s station is in the back room of the town grocery store, not much bigger than a desk and a holding cell. There isn’t much to do at Crockett Island but fish and pray. It’s no surprise either, after newcomer Father Paul (Hamish Linklater, Legion) arrives to replace their longstanding preacher and his flair for the miraculous fills the pews.
Soon the whole town will be topped up on their waning religious convictions. (Everyone except the never-wavering Bev Keene, of course.) But as the miracles pile up, something seems amiss. Why have all of the stray cats washed up on the town beach? Did someone poison Joe Collie’s dog? Are the devout just as good and true as they believe? They say the ‘road is paved with good intentions’, and for Crockett Island, the road leads straight to the bottom of the sea.
“a confident tale of slow-building supernatural horror”
With Midnight Mass, Flanagan weaves a confident tale of slow-building supernatural horror, with the utmost care for each of his characters. You can see this project has been mulling in his mind for some time, each of the characters developed into full-bodied human beings, ready to speak. The characters almost curtsy to one another, giving each the opportunity to make an impact and pull at the audience’s heartstrings. (Again, everyone except Bev Keene.) This is sometimes to the series’ detriment, as the pace is quite sluggish. Characters monologue to one another like they haven’t got a schedule to keep, and ideas are allowed to be mulled over, eloquently mind you, far past their due date.
I will admit — I tend to prefer a swifter pace. It’s why I’ve never been one for full-out episodic television. I do enjoy a good limited series though, which is perhaps why the yappy characters of Midnight Mass let me down; the mystery on Crockett Island could have been solved and done in 3 episodes or less, if we only gave them all an egg timer.
What I consider overwrought emotion may just be your cinematic goldmine of emotional resonance though, as characters meditate on the hereafter, the merits of faith, and their interpretations of the word of god; which version is bastardized the most, and why theirs is the correct interpretation.
What did win me over was Flanagan’s original premise. I won’t spoil any of Midnight Mass’s mystery in this review, but I will say – the secrets uncovered on Crockett Island will surely delight all fans of supernatural horror. Flanagan always breathes heart into his work, and there is no shortage of it here. He uses horror as a device to analyze the topics we’re too scared to confront head-on. With Midnight Mass, the ‘horror’ expertly explores the hive mentality of over-conviction, and the dangers of leaving a populace unchecked or unquestioned for the sake of keeping the peace. Sometimes the boat needs to be rocked before everyone capsizes.
“the secrets uncovered on Crockett Island will surely delight all fans of supernatural horror.”
Midnight Mass debuts globally on Netflix on September 24th. Are you excited to devour this seven-part limited series? Let us know your thoughts and theories over in the Nightmare on Film Street Discord!