When it comes to masterpieces of modern horror, Mike Flanagan’s track record is like no other. From films like Gerald’s Game (2017) and Doctor Sleep (2019) to shows such as The Haunting of Hill House (2018) and The Haunting of Bly Manor (2020), the man has proven time and time again that he’s one of the greatest horror writer/directors living today. To put it into perspective, I’ve given his last four projects have an average review score of 9.4/10.
In yet another phenomenal work of art, Midnight Mass continues along that same trajectory, resulting in a truly harrowing horror experience that pushes the boundaries of the genre with an ambitious narrative that’s drenched in terror. Midnight Mass follows an isolated island community as the residents begin to experience frightful events after the unexpected arrival of a new, charismatic priest. From the very beginning, Flanagan sets this dreary, ominous tone that’s looming over the residents of this town and introduces a great deal of mystery for the audience to ponder over. The series then adopts a very delicate slow-burn approach to horror and story development, as is the case with many of his projects, with tension slowly and cleverly building through each and every scene towards an epic finale. Those going in expecting all-out horror, similar in vein to Hill House, will be disappointed. This journey is a personal passion project for Mike Flanagan, going much deeper into the characters and themes than just delivering big scares. It’s steeped in atmospheric horror, where the real terror comes in the form of tone, dialogue and character behaviour as oppose to bombastic scares.
Just like how Bly Manor was a love story rather than a horror series, Midnight Mass is first and foremost an exploration of faith and religion under the veil of a horror series. There’s a very deep analysis of how religion and faith impacts the behaviour and thinking of individuals and entire communities. It’s the core theme of the series, with the vast majority of spine-chilling biblical horror content coming in the form of unsettling and terror-inducing sermons, mass proceedings and religious discussions. It’s not all an exploration of Christianity either, the Islam faith also plays a role in the narrative’s break down of religious conflict. As the narrative develops and the tension rises through to the climax, Mike Flanagan unleashes some of the most haunting content he’s ever created. When the pressure cooker of horror thrills finally explodes and shit hits the fan, it’s well worth the character-driven journey to get there.
That’s another thing Mike Flanagan exhibits incredibly well across all of his projects – the ability to write compelling characters with distinct personalities and clear backstories, then develop them and their relationships thoroughly to where you either genuinely care about them or despise them. Either way, you understand them, which is crucial to the enjoyment of the show. Having spent over 7 hours with these characters, I feel like I know them – and not just the lead protagonist. There’s an extensive amount of time, especially in the early episodes spent breaking down what makes each character tick and what makes them interesting. From Sheriff Hassan (Rahul Kohli) and Dr. Sarah Gunning (Annabeth Gish) to Erin Greene (Kate Siegel) and Joe Collie (Robert Longstreet) every one of these characters are fleshed out to where they feel like real people, which is essential in heightening the effectiveness of the horror sequences. If you don’t care about the characters, then why would you be scared?
Mike Flanagan once again teams up with a number of familiar faces from his previous projects, including Kate Siegel, Rahul Kohli, Henry Thomas, Alex Essoe and more, while also bringing in fresh faces such as Zach Gilford and Hamish Linklater. Regardless of whether they’re new or returning, the ensemble cast is just absolutely brilliant. Everyone, and I mean everyone really pulls their weight in making every scene engaging and every character interesting. Hamish Linklater is unbreakable in his performance as Father Paul, really hammering home every single line of dialogue – especially while he’s spouting biblical verses and sermons during mass. He’s just so captivating that you can’t take your eyes off him while his speaking. That being said, Zach Gilford leads the series really damn well as Riley, a character with a troubled past and loss of faith. Zach displays the inner conflict his character is struggling with every single day really well and is a great protagonist to view the bulk of the story through.
I also want to highlight the strength of Rahul Kohli’s performance as a Muslim sheriff in an all-Christian town. He’s someone who only gets better with every project and every scene I see him in. The emotion he brings to his character’s journey, especially through a couple of pivotal dialogue-heavy scenes, is just invaluable to the show’s success. Speaking of bringing that emotion, Kate Siegel is just an absolute powerhouse. She steals every single scene she’s in, without fail. No matter who she’s acting up against, it’s all eyes on Kate as she acts her heart out time and time again.
In the end, Midnight Mass is a truly phenomenal biblical horror series. It’s intense, thrilling, terrifying, dramatic and emotional the entire way through. It’s abundantly clear, from the level of intricacy in the dialogue and how much time is spent developing these characters, that this is Mike Flanagan’s most personal project. Considering that this has been in the works for a decade, he has crafted something truly special and unique. If a slow burn horror series that subverts expectation and explores the terrors that lie within faith and religion is at all enticing, then this is for you!