If you’ve seen The Fall of the House of Usher, you know Mike Flanagan can create a gripping story and terrifying scares, along with conveying a lot of heart. Which is why I believe Midnight Mass is his most underrated and personal project to date. Flanagan blurs the lines between good intentions and fanaticism as we follow the island community dive deep into their personal beliefs of a higher power.
After killing a young girl in a drunk driving accident, Riley Flynn (played by Zach Gilford) returns home to Crockett Island to rebuild his life and reconnect with his family. Soon after, a priest named Paul Hill (played by Hamish Linklater) arrives in place of the community’s elderly pastor. After Hill’s arrival, miracles begin to shake the community and renew their faith in God and their zest for life. However, there is a price for these miracles and its payment will be taken in blood whether the community likes it or not.
I honestly didn’t know what to expect when I started watching this, but I did know it was gonna be more on the unconventional, slow burn side of storytelling. That still didn’t make the show less engrossing to watch, as Flanagan takes bold swings with his story, like killing off our main protagonist with 2 episodes left in the series. It definitely built up the unpredictability of how events would unfold going forward. The writing also allowed for some stellar plot twists as well, such as Father Paul Hill being the community’s patriarch Monsignor John Pruitt as well as his intentions remaining ambiguous until the final act.
There also is quite the commentary on religion as well, in particular the religious extremism and taking advantage of that faith for one’s own twisted purpose. Now Flanagan never took any true shots at Catholicism or the Catholic Church, even though he easily could have but instead used it to fuel character relationships such as Riley Flynn’s parents and everyone’s interactions with Bev Keene (more on her later). He even incorporates the faith of Islam through the character of Sheriff Hassan (played by Rahul Kohli) and his son, opening up the discussion of faith-based novels being used in public school systems as well as pointing out some hypocrisies within Christianity. Every single character was craving something that they thought was missing in their life or wanted to escape the turmoil their community suffered. Which is why when the miracles started happening, the whole community clung to it like duct tape. This leads to the finale kicking into overdrive as the entire congregation turns into vampires and their hunger becomes unquenchable.
Along with the commentary on religion, the themes of forgiveness, regret and second chances are prevalent. Pruitt’s motivation itself was to give a second chance to have a life with the woman he loved and to get to know his daughter. Riley’s arc was all about self forgiveness after his accident killed an innocent person. But almost everyone on the island had some form of regret that they wanted to be forgiven for, before and/or after they turned. Which lead to a beautiful and melancholic ending as all of the island inhabitants (except Bev Keene) realize their mistakes and accept their fates as the sun rises, all while singing a beautiful rendition of the gospel hymn, “Nearer, My God, To Thee”
Like Doctor Sleep and The Fall of the House of Usher, gore and prosthetics are used sparingly but effectively. With characters like Pruitt and Mildred in their old age being all too convincing in Pruitt’s flashbacks and as Mildred gradually deages throughout the show. But the most impressive feat of the make up department is The Angel and his entire design. The Angel’s skin is a jaundice pale that makes him slightly more monstrous along with his wings looking very practical. They also decided to give the creature rows of pointed teeth instead of the traditional fangs, which makes the use of gore that much more violent as the blood comes out in droves but is never overstated.
And I almost forgot about the performances! It is easy to say the entire cast didn’t take a day off, as they created 3 dimensional characters that anyone could relate to. They even give the side characters more personality than being typical one-note characters. But the best performances come from Zach Gilford as Riley Flynn, Kate Seigel as Erin Greene, Samantha Sloyan as Bev Keene and of course, Hamish Linklater as Father Paul/John Pruitt. Greene and Seigel have great chemistry and do a great job bouncing off each other along with discussing their different views on religion and philosophy after life took them on different paths. Each with their own regrets but are able to come to terms with what happened to them by the end. Bev Keene is one of the most vile, entitled, despicable characters I have ever watched, being the Karen-est Karen in the world. Sloyan truly envelopes the role playing her with this stupid self-righteousness she believes she has along with a hatred for everyone who doesn’t go to church every Sunday. And of course, Linklater as Pruitt is the cherry on top of this cast, playing the man who brought back a monster with only the best of intentions without understanding the full weight of the consequences. His intentions were good, if a little selfish, but he’s as human as the rest of his community. He owns his mistake and awaits his fate like everyone else in the end.
Midnight Mass is a sleeper horror hit that needs to be seen by more people! I personally didn't know about this miniseries until after I saw The Fall of the House of Usher, only to find out it came out in 2021. With its effective commentary on religion, and personable themes regarding forgiveness, regrets, and second chances it should be given a chance. If not for the themes then for the bold and emotional story, heavily underrated performances and creative make up and prosthetics. Midnight Mass isn’t talked about enough, but hopefully it will become a future classic that horror fans can enjoy.