Midnight Mass review: Netflix's new series is a slow-burn drama ending in all-out horror
The new show from the creator of The Haunting of Hill House arrives this week...
The Haunting of Hill House might have been the most problematic thing that Mike Flanagan has ever created. Not because of anything wrong with the show itself, which remains one of the best things to appear on Netflix, and is practically unequalled in terms of a quality horror show.
No, the issue is with any follow-ups that Flanagan might do within the horror genre, which is definitely where he has remained since then. He went off to the big screen to direct The Shining sequel Doctor Sleep, and returned to Netflix with The Haunting of Bly Manor, and while both of those projects definitely featured moments of horror, they had more in common with supernatural dramas than the ghost story at the centre of Hill House.
By this point, we shouldn't be surprised that his new project, Midnight Mass, isn't delivering the top-to-tails terror of his name-making show. Instead, much like his recent output, the series starts off as a slow-burning drama, scattered with a few frights here and there, but it does slowly build to a climax of all out horror by the sixth and seventh episode.
The plot sees Riley (Zach Gilford) returning home to his small, isolated island to live with his parents, after spending a few years in prison for manslaughter while drink driving. He quickly reunites with old flame Erin (Kate Siegel), a pregnant teacher who has also returned to the island after years "on the mainland".
The same day, Father Paul (Hamish Linklater) arrives to replace the island's old and poorly priest, and his energetic sermons catch the attention of the island's religious hand-wringer Bev (Samantha Sloyan). However, it is when Father Paul starts to perform what appears to be actual miracles that he gets the attention of the entire island, including the local doctor (Annabeth Gish), sheriff (Rahul Kohli) and mayor (Michael Trucco).
To say much more would be to give away some of the biggest plot turns that Flanagan has baked into the mix, but he spends so much time fleshing these characters out that, much like the frog in the slowly boiling pot of water, you almost don't notice the horror of the situation until it is too late.
Instead, Flanagan is almost more interested in delving into some very big topics - addiction, racism, guilt, perceptions of the afterlife, weaponising religion - than he is in making us scream in fright. Each of the actors are given some BIG moments to show off their performances, and if there sometimes feels like there might be one too many monologues about An Important Issue, it thankfully feels weighty, instead of weighed down.
Flanagan also shows off on a technical level too, with another jaw-dropping tracking shot kicking off an early episode, and some gorgeous aerial shots of the isolated island truly nailing home the loneliness that everyone here is subject to.
And then, yes, there is the horror.
The early episodes have a few tense scenes scattered throughout, with the sense of foreboding constantly present, before exploding into the full-on scary movie in the final two episodes. It feels earned and is magnificently crafted and handled, and because we have spent so much time with these characters, our emotional reaction is more powerful than it would be with your usual spooky story.
Anyone expecting all scares all the time will probably be disappointed here, but for those willing to invest the necessary time, the payoff is worth it.
All seven episodes of Midnight Mass will be available to watch on Netflix from Friday, 24 September.
Clips via Netflix