Midnight Mass Review | TV show
Riley Flynn (Zach Gilford), alcoholic and altar boy turned atheist, returns to his isolated island community of Crocket Island – population of 127 and declining – after being released from prison. Things take an odd turn when the mysterious new priest, Father Paul Hill (Hamish Linklater) arrives and apparently begins to work miracles.
Watched episodes: 7 out of 7
Broadcast on: Netflix
With The Haunting of Hill House and Manor of Bly, writer / director Mike Flanagan has proven to be a master of long-term TV horror. And while it bears no narrative connection to either of these limited series (despite several familiar faces), its latest show is a worthy, albeit potentially divisive, addition to the Flanacanon.
Midnight Mass is primarily a thoughtful but sometimes wordy satire on religion, with Roman Catholicism most affected by the showrunner’s scrutiny. His characters span the spectrum of beliefs, from the pious pious to the committed atheist, not to mention those who follow a different path to God (represented by the sheriff of the Muslim city, played by Manor of Bly‘s Rahul Kohli). The story, at least initially, revolves around how each reacts to the apparent ability of their new priest (Hamish Linklater) to heal the ailments before their eyes. Is it really the touch of God orâ¦ something else?
Sometimes you might want the catechisms to stop and the supernatural shenanigans to take off; to others, you’ll feel happy to embrace slow burning and soul-searching – especially in a particularly haunting monologue about what happens when we die.
The series is also Flanagan’s own twisted version of a particular strand of the horror myth. Specify what is far too spoiler, but the clues are sown early and find their source in the act of Holy Communion: this strange rite to unbelievers where the host and the wine are offered as the flesh and blood of Christ to him -same.
Flanagan rewards us for our patience during the slower first episodes. Come the last couple of hours, he really lets the action rip.
It’s a neat, thematic, and deliciously heretical version of a beloved subgenre, though it suffers slightly in light of its cultural ubiquity. The god-fearing and god-lost fishermen of the remote and ramshackle island of Crockett might not come out much there, but it’s hard to believe that they themselves could be so completely oblivious to such a widespread piece of folklore and so unable to join points which for most people would be a no-brainer.
Fortunately, the cast of Flanagan does a lot to distract us from this problem. Linklater is captivating as Father Hill, the enigmatic miracle worker who promises to be a surprise replacement for the old and crippled city priest, last seen embarking on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. It’s a tough role to play – too easy to switch into “scary” – but it kind of infuses warmth and relativity into the darker places. In the same way, Hill House‘s Samantha Sloyan takes the archetype of the spiritually posh and busy town person and manages to compose the villain without getting stuck in soap operas.
Flanagan also rewards us for our patience during the slower first few episodes. Come the last couple of hours, he really lets the action tear the action apart as horribly misplaced acts of faith and love pay off sick. And, to be fair, without its five-hour mystery build-up, it’s hard to imagine Midnight Mass‘fierce climax hitting so hard.
Mike Flanagan thoughtfully chews up religious and horror icons with his latest miniseries, resulting in a show some might find more difficult than his Hauntings. But it’s ultimately heady material and an interesting new take on an old concept.