Mike Flanagan is one of the few filmmakers working today who truly understands horror. Not only does he forgo the cheap formula of conventional jump scare tactics almost entirely in favour of confronting viewers with the terror directly, but he knows that the horror should signify something meaningful in the story being told. In Hill House the terrors symbolised family trauma, whereas the various spirits in Bly Manor were used as tragic remnants of the past to further its Gothic love story. First impressions of Midnight Mass suggest that Flanagan’s latest and highly anticipated Netflix series will be staying true to the filmmaker’s thoughtful and frightening approach to the genre as he creates a project that’s been dear to his heart for over a decade.
Abandoning the large Gothic manor homes of the director’s previous series, Midnight Mass whisks viewers to the isolated but equally eerie Crockett Island, where everybody knows everyone. However, the population has been in decline ever since an oil spill devastated the economy. With tales of ominous and unexplained happenings peppered throughout the first two episodes, it’s evident that something sinister also calls this island its home.
There’s certainly plenty of creepy imagery to get under the viewer’s skin in the initial chapters, the opening starting the series off with a bang in that regard. However, Flanagan spends most of his time in these early stages introducing the characters, who are set to play a bigger role in what’s to come. Namely, there’s Riley (Zach Gilford), who’s recently returned to the island after experiencing a traumatic event, and Father Paul (Hamish Linklater), the island’s young and charismatic new priest.
Both Gilford and Linklater are fantastic. Each gives a rich yet nuanced performance, representing two opposing ideologies: Riley is a tortured cynic whereas Paul is devout in his beliefs and seems to care only about helping those around him. An interaction between the pair in the second episode outlines some of the series’ themes in a thoughtful and provocative manner, which showcases Flanagan’s flare as a writer.
Amidst the building terror and strained communal tensions, there’s also an unmistakable melancholy to Midnight Mass that makes Crockett Island even more alluring. Flanagan has created a rich and menacing setting brimming with mystery and ideas within the first two episodes, which begs to be explored further.
Midnight Mass is released on Netflix on 24th September 2021.
Watch the trailer for Midnight Mass here: