Mike Flanagan is well known for his miniseries “The Haunting of Hill House” and “The Haunting of Bly Manor” among other projects, but “Midnight Mass” can’t be judged by its cover — or the previous work of its creator. A lot of Flanagan’s work grapples with relatable themes like grief and loss, but with “Midnight Mass,” he aims even higher.
Through a script absolutely dripping with monologues and metaphors, Flanagan wants to show viewers what it means to believe in a higher power, and the effect of faith on the human psyche and soul.
“This isn’t a community anymore. It’s a ghost,” said Annie Flynn (Kristin Lehman) in the show’s first episode, and she was right — at the beginning of “Midnight Mass” the quaint, unassuming Crockett Island just isn’t what it used to be.
When Riley Flynn (Zach Gilford) returns to his own personal small-town hell after a stay in prison, he finds that things on Crockett Island have changed. The town is falling apart and the community seems to be on its last legs, until the convenient arrival of a charismatic young priest (Hamish Linklater). Riley sets out to discover exactly what is going on in his hometown — and the answers turn out to be more than he bargained for.
Every Crockett citizen has a role to play in the story, and most get heavy dialogue about human nature, death, god and evil. If nothing else, “Midnight Mass” is full of memorable characters.
With stunning performances, the well-rounded cast brought Flanagan’s characters to life. Kate Siegel (“Hush,” “Gerald’s Game”), Zach Gilford (“The Purge: Anarchy,” “The Last Winter”) and Hamish Linklater (“Fantastic Four,” “The Big Short”) had particularly memorable performances and somehow managed to avoid making long monologues feel as awkward or forced as they should’ve.
That leads to the biggest problem with “Midnight Mass” — the dialogue-heavy storytelling isn’t for everyone and will likely disappoint horror fans who are in it for the scares and screams. Horror isn’t really the purpose of the show, which becomes apparent early on — it’s six and a half hours of buildup and meandering philosophy with just a few scenes to actually push it into the horror genre.
The sense of foreboding Flanagan’s style builds is deliberate though, with shots that linger just a little too long or specific word choices that suddenly make normal sentences deeply unsettling. It’s the way Flanagan uses this underlying discomfort to draw attention to his themes that makes “Midnight Mass’’ worthwhile and unique.
It’s long, it’s tense and at times tedious, but there’s no denying that “Midnight Mass” is a praiseworthy and fairly unique exploration of what it means to be human. The show sags at times from the sheer weight of the dialogue that drives it, but the investment is mostly paid off in a satisfying and thought-provoking conclusion.
Although it might take itself too seriously on occasion, “Midnight Mass” is worth watching.
All seven episodes of “Midnight Mass” are available on Netflix.