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Review: Experience the Horrors of Fanaticism in Netflix’s ‘Midnight Mass’

Review: Experience the Horrors of Fanaticism in Netflix’s ‘Midnight Mass’

From the masterful creator of The Haunting of Hill House and The Haunting of Bly Manor, comes a new Netflix original that’s a breathtaking force in transcendental horror. Mike Flanagan’s Midnight Mass is a seven-episode limited series exploring religion, blind faith, and what happens when these are taken to the extreme.

The series stars Haunting alums Rahul Kohli (iZombie), Kate Siegel (Hush), Annabeth Gish (The X-Files), Samantha Sloyan (Grey’s Anatomy), Robert Longstreet (Halloween Kills), Alex Essoe (Starry Eyes), and Henry Thomas (E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial), with newcomers Hamish Linklater (Legion), Zach Gilford (The Purge: Anarchy), Kristin Lehman (Altered Carbon), Igby Rigney (F9: The Fast Saga), Rahul Abburi (Good Game), Crystal Balint (The Bletchley Circle: San Francisco), Annarah Cymone (The Midnight Club), Matt Biedel (Narcos: Mexico), and Michael Trucco (Through the Glass Darkly). It’s produced by Flanagan and Trevor Macy (Doctor Sleep) for Intrepid Pictures, along with Jeff Howard, Morgan Beggs, Elan Gale, and Netflix Studios. 

Enter the world of Crockett Island, a scenic, isolated fishing town that has seen its fair share of hardships. With a population of just over a hundred, this small community’s identity is shaped by religion and fishing. And if you don’t ascribe to either, then you’re a black sheep, like Riley Flynn. 

Though he was born and raised on the island, Riley returns as an outsider after a harrowing accident changed his life. His arrival coincides with that of Father Paul, the mysterious priest whose appearance on the island is completely unexpected. He’s there to fill in for Monsignor Pruitt, who is recovering from an illness on the mainland. At St. Patrick’s, we see the susceptibility of the parishioners, who are desperate for better days. Father Paul is the answer to their prayers, but what he brings is much more than they could have ever imagined.

As seen in the trailer, miraculous things start to happen on the island. They start small, almost going undetected, but when wheelchair-bound Leeza (in a particularly powerful performance by Annarah Cymone) is remarkably able to walk, the community is in awe.  

The ensemble cast is made up of brilliant actors who each get their moment to shine. Mike Flanagan continues to work with the same actors throughout his film and television projects, while introducing new faces into the mix that are sure to become fan favorites.   

Rahul Kohli plays Sheriff Hassan, a much different character from the funny chef in Bly Manor. He carries himself with a John Wayne swagger and is a compassionate leader in the community, though not everyone respects his authority. The sheriff and his teenage son Ali have to endure not-so-subtle racist remarks by some of the island’s inhabitants, who also tend to disrespect their Muslim beliefs. 

Kate Siegel’s characters in Hill House and Bly Manor are distant and emotionally guarded, but Erin Greene is the heart of this series. She’s kind, warm, and a source of comfort for Riley. Erin is a believer who regularly attends mass, but she remains a person who thinks for herself and isn’t afraid to question her beliefs. 

Zach Gilford plays Riley, a character we can instantly empathize and likely identify with. He’s not the only nonbeliever, but he’s the most confident in his stance. He embodies our own fears, skepticism, and questions surrounding faith. Gilford is someone that I hope to see in more Flanagan projects. 

Samantha Sloyan delivers a chilling performance as Bev Keane, the island’s passive-aggressive self-appointed moral authority. She’s a devout, self-righteous, religious extremist whom we immediately dislike but are still drawn to. 

Hamish Linklater stands out as the enigmatic Father Paul. He’s charismatic, approachable, and genuinely cares about these parishioners. Though he does seem a little off, he has the ability to reinvigorate the congregation. Linklater’s delivery of the sermons is rather epic, and his passionate monologues, inside and outside the mass setting, are captivating. He recites scripture like Shakespeare. 

It’s a true testament to the actors’ talent that they are able to flawlessly tackle these entrancing monologues. The characters have intense conversations that are overwhelming at times. Whether they’re discussing the concept of God’s love or an impending storm, the sheer amount of information they recite is staggering. 

Bible verses are seamlessly weaved into dialogue in a way that’s realistic and recognizable (especially if you grew up in a religious community). Bev weaponizes the passages, using them as threats, while Father Paul’s didactic approach comes from a place of love. It’s fascinating to see how each character embodies and externalizes their faith.

Hymns are the primary style of music, making the heavy religious presence inescapable, a feeling the islanders are familiar with. “Sinister” choir music (as labeled in the closed captioning) plays during the series’ tensest moments. These ominous auditory elements juxtaposed with screeching seagulls and soothing sounds of the sea create a sense of foreboding. We feel this picturesque setting is in danger. 

Anyone who remembers the extraordinary long shots in the sixth episode of Hill House know that Flanagan, DP Michael Fimognari, and their crew are innovators when it comes to camera choreography. In the second episode of Midnight Mass, there’s a tracking shot along the beach that lasts about seven and a half minutes. The single shot starts and ends with different characters at the forefront, taking us through their personal reactions, which is how the entire series feels.

Midnight Mass explicitly looks at the scary aspects of organized religion, the power of enlightenment, the weight of immense guilt, recovering from addiction, the search for redemption, and the relentless pursuit of understanding death. There are the characters who question the true meaning of it all, or if there is any meaning, and there are those who believe in God as an absolute truth. It may seem easy to categorize the characters into believers and nonbelievers, but Flanagan includes those who fall in between.

Flanagan told Variety, “It’s impossible to separate the Bible as a book from horror literature. It has everything in there. It’s overtly and unapologetically espousing supernatural, horrific events left and right. Even the hero of the story—God, the embodiment of love—drowns the world when he gets angry enough.”

As he points out, the Bible is full of horrific imagery. The zealotry born of this particular ancient text is in itself terrifying. It’s a source that’s interpreted in many ways, and so often distorted to a point of violence and destruction. 

I could honestly write a 30-page thesis analyzing everything I love about this series. Each character is so layered and complex, and every actor deserves recognition for bringing them to life on screen. 

Mike Flanagan is known for inventive, effective storytelling, and Midnight Mass still exceeds expectations. It’s a unique blend of Jaws, The Witch, and The Exorcist, with hints of The Wicker Man and The Shining. The atmospheric horror is arresting, the production design is stunning and meticulous. It’s truly a masterpiece.   

Set aside seven hours to fully immerse yourself in this series. Just bring yourself. Mike Flanagan will do the rest. 

Midnight Mass begins streaming on Netflix on September 24. 

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