Critique of the “Midnight Mass”: a terrifying meditation on humanity, faith and the hereafter

A delightful and deeply disturbing spectacle, Mike Flanagan’s new creation gently draws you in and keeps you in an evil vice

Mike Flanagan (The Haunting of Hill House, The Haunting of Bly Manor) described Midnight Mass as his most personal work. The disturbing series is an investigation into the double barrels of faith and addiction – which Flanagan both struggled with. The setting, a secluded island, also draws inspiration from Flanagan’s life as he grew up on a small, lonely island.

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The show opens with the arrival of two people at Crockett Island. Riley (Zach Gilford) returns home after serving four years in prison for killing a teenager while driving under the influence. The other arrival is a young priest, Paul Hill (Hamish Linklater), who comes as a temporary replacement for Monsignor Pruitt. The aging priest went on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land.

Riley’s return is thorny; although her mother Annie (Kristin Lehman) is welcoming, her father Ed (Henry Thomas) is not so forgiving. Having lost faith in prison, Riley struggles to fit into a deeply Catholic Crockett. Erin (Kate Siegel), who was dating Riley, also returned to Crockett. She is pregnant and stays in her mother’s house and teaches in school like her mother.

Midnight Mass

  • Season 1
  • Episodes: 7
  • Running time: 60 to 71 minutes
  • Creator: Mike Flanagan
  • With: Kate Siegel, Zach Gilford, Kristin Lehman, Samantha Sloyan, Igby Rigney, Rahul Kohli, Annarah Cymone, Annabeth Gish, Alex Essoe, Rahul Abburi, Matt Biedel, Michael Trucco, Crystal Balint, Louis Oliver, Henry Thomas, Hamish Linklater
  • Storyline: The arrival of a charismatic priest on a remote island brings miracles and chaos

Riley’s teenage brother, Warren (Igby Rigney) as Riley is an altar boy in church. Warren along with another altar boy, Ooker (Louis Oliver) and Ali (Rahul Abburi), the son of Sheriff Hassan (Rahul Kohli) goes to a remote part of the island to smoke. That’s when they realize that something is wrong with feral cats and their towering presence.

Bev (Samantha Sloyan) is the authoritative driving force behind St Patrick’s, which has trampled on the more temperate Mayor Wade (Michael Trucco) and his wife Dolly (Crystal Balint). Bev runs everyone from handyman Sturge (Matt Biedel) to the sheriff. It was she who convinced everyone in the town to agree to a settlement when an oil spill destroyed the coastline and the livelihoods of fishermen. Meanwhile, the mayor’s daughter Leeza (Annarah Cymone) is in a wheelchair after a shooting accident at the hands of town drunkard Joe (Robert Longstreet).

Sarah (Annabeth Gish) is the island doctor who cares for her mother Mildred (Alex Essoe), who suffers from dementia. Covering the period between Ash Wednesday and Easter Sunday, Midnight Mass used the names of books from the Bible for the episodes, starting with Genesis through the Psalms, Proverbs, Lamentations, Gospels and Acts of the Apostles culminating in Revelation.

Midnight Mass is at its strongest when meditating on humanity, faith and the hereafter. Sheriff Hasan’s reasons for coming to the island, Erin comes to terms with his loss, Riley’s meditating on mortality, Bev’s chilling belief that he’s right and everyone’s wrong, Ed’s resentment for his son and Joe’s refusal to forgive himself all create characters that we care about intimately. The sonorous hymns including “Abide with Me” (a personal favorite) add texture to these lives lived in quiet despair.

A charming and deeply disturbing spectacle, Midnight Mass gently draws you in and keeps you in an evil vice. It’s towards the end, when all is revealed, that the show loses its vibrancy, going from eerie and humanistic to a splash festival. Everyone in the cast is awesome with Linklater and Sloyan zooming in at the top of the class. Linklater’s father Paul gets rid of three skins revealing a distinct character beneath each while Sloyan has nailed the zealous Bev perfectly.

If you can forgive the incredibly talkative passages (they are admittedly well written), the distortion of the heartwarming prayers (you won’t be calling upon the angel of god, darling guardian anytime soon) and the rather silly conclusion, Midnight Mass asks many disruptive questions that would stay with you long after the fire and brimstone is gone.

Midnight Mass is currently streaming on Netflix

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