Mike Flanagan "uses the plot of Midnight Mass as an allegorical stand-in for a broad range of extreme conservative reactions to the pandemic," says Aja Romano. "On that theme, the series’ scathing reproach of Christianity’s enablement of hysteria, apocalypse mania, and survivalist extremism couldn’t be clearer. But if Flanagan wanted to condemn religious zeal more generally, he failed. Midnight Mass makes several attempts to critique organized religion, yet the impression it leaves is that faith in God, and explicitly Christian faith in particular, is the ultimate pandemic comfort. The series almost entirely erases atheists, agnostics, and people of other religions by emphasizing its Christian worldview. 'I choose God,' Hassan’s rebellious teen son, Ali, declares when he joins Paul and Bev’s new cult, as if Allah, the god he grew up worshiping, was never real. The narrative wants to portray his choice as entirely wrong-headed, and he is quickly shown to regret his decision, but when most of the series’ other 'good' characters are also making choices based on their proud faith in the Christian version of God, the implied falseness of Ali’s choice doesn’t sink in." Romano adds: "Midnight Mass is a piece of gorgeous filmmaking; Flanagan has a thing for backlighting and shadowy nighttime sequences that contrast beautifully with the scenic coastal setting. But the best horror should ideally confront its audience. Midnight Mass instead offers up a convenient villain while sidestepping most of the difficult questions about the consequences of religion unchecked by rationality, or the way organized religion can become a system of abuse or a tool of control. Horror is the genre that many look to when they want to see society stripped of its false narratives. The myth that technology is only benevolent. The myth that civilization can protect us. The myth that any long-term earthly consequences for humanity’s short-term greed don’t matter because God has a mysterious plan and will reward us in the afterlife."
The ghosts that haunted Hill House, Bly Manor, and the Overlook Hotel are all over Midnight Mass' Crockett Island: Midnight Mass may be the culmination of Mike Flanagan's career, says Sam Adams. "Flanagan’s Netflix shows have always shown a fondness for monologues, but in Midnight Mass, they’re more frequent and less ornamental. Practically every episode features a sermon from Father Paul, or one of the lengthy exchanges between him and Riley that serve as the equivalent of AA meetings. (The town is too small to furnish more than one other recovering alcoholic, and he doesn’t last long.) Flanagan’s actors, to be frank, have not always been up to the challenge, but Linklater in particular is such an engrossing and idiosyncratic presence that you could watch him talk for hours. (Don’t worry, none of Father Paul’s sermons lasts quite that long.) He’s an evangelist, but one who gives the sense that he’s thinking as he speaks rather than unfurling some dusty spiel, animated by a spirit that may be holy or … otherwise. He’s also quite literally high on his own supply, relying on the angel’s 'sacrament' to keep himself young and to stave off the hunger pangs whose true nature he writes off as a minor barrier between the faithful and eternal life. As in The Haunting of Hill House and Doctor Sleep, there’s no escape from addiction, at least not in this life. These aren’t horror stories in which demons are defeated, at least not without paying the highest of costs. For a happy ending, at least relatively speaking, you have to turn to the project Flanagan made amid these others, The Haunting of Bly Manor. That story ends with its protagonist dead, sacrificing herself to placate a vengeful spirit and save the lives of those around her. But her sacrifice is not in vain. The ghost is laid to rest, and the rest of Bly Manor’s residents are freed from its curse. There are happy endings in Flanagan’s world, but in order to get to them, someone has to die first. God, grant Mike Flanagan’s characters the serenity to accept the things they cannot change, the courage to change the things they can, and the wisdom to know the difference."
Midnight Mass is the new benchmark for Mike Flanagan's stellar body of work: "While Midnight Mass does, slowly, begin to embrace genre conventions—dabbling in old-school horror that suits the show’s religious themes and the more supernatural elements of the Bible—it works because the series takes so much time to make the island’s community feel lived-in," says Miles Surrey. "(With how much he’s dabbled in the works of Stephen King, it seems Flanagan has picked up some of the author’s penchant for world-building.) Every character in the sprawling ensemble gets their time in the spotlight—from Hassan explaining how working as a Muslim police officer after 9/11 and the loss of his wife compelled him to uproot his life to the middle of nowhere, to Riley reckoning with his guilt over killing someone and whether he deserves a second chance. (This being a horror series, every night before drifting to sleep, Riley sees the teenage girl he killed, splintered with flashing shards of glass that reflect off the red and blue lights of police sirens, staring right into his soul.)"
Midnight Mass combines the horror and beauty of faith: "I really appreciated Midnight Mass for delivering a product that balanced out the dark, cult-like aspect of faith, but also the things about it that can be beautiful," says Princess Weekes. "It was a slog at times (Mike Flanagan loves a monologue), but I found myself in tears at the end—an ending I have chosen to rewatch a lot since finishing it."
Rahul Kohli has mastered the art of the quiet good guy: "Last year, I publicly announced my new TV love: The Haunting of Bly Manor‘s Rahul Kohli," says Kayla Cobb. "A lot of TV characters are hiding secrets hearts of gold, but Kohli’s Owen was just unapologetically nice, a sweet, supportive chef who loved bad puns and helping out his co-workers. And with Midnight Mass Kohli has done it again. Midnight Mass‘ Sheriff Hassan has traded Owen’s silliness for a deep sense of loyalty and commitment to his religion. And I’m pleased to report I would still happily kill for Kohli, if he asked me. My love of Kohli’s characters aren’t solely based on the fact that he’s an objectively attractive man, though that certainly helps. Owen’s mustache is far and away one of the best facial hair looks of 2020 TV. That’s a high bar, yet somehow Sheriff Hassan beats that, looking both grizzled and well-groomed. High fives all around to the hair and makeup department for both shows. No, the reason I love Owen and Sheriff Hassan so much is because Kohli has mastered the art of the quiet good guy. Kind, but on the sidelines, basically described Owen’s entire arc in The Haunting of Bly Manor. While the inhabitants of this spooky house were being tortured by more and more ghosts, Owen tried desperately to keep things light, making silly jokes, taking over shifts so Dani (Victoria Pedretti) could go on dates, and organizing wine nights. He did all of this emotional labor with a smile while also handling his own dying mother and crushed dreams. It never felt like there were any ulterior motives with Owen. He was just a good guy because that was the right thing to be. That’s also the case with Sheriff Hassan."
Rahul Kohli had a three-week turnaround from The Haunting of Bly Manor to Midnight Mass: "I was on Bly Manor and I think I had a three week turnaround from Owen into Sheriff Hassan," he says. "I'm playing this guy where I have to learn Arabic, Islamic prayers, speak with an American accent, and play 40-something when I'm 34. I was also, at that time, told to put on some weight for this guy to look older. So I put on 30 pounds...I didn't do it immediately on Bly. But towards that last episode, I did. I did it fast. I barely was back in LA. I did a ride-along with the LAPD and I was going to the gun range. I was doing this accent in the show and was working with a dialect coach privately and just cramming, cramming, cramming, cramming, cramming when I could."
Annabeth Gish says her scene with Alex Essoe, who plays her mother, hit close to home: “Alex and I, in particular, had one scene in our home where she’s suddenly alert from her dementia, and there was this connective energy transfer that rocked me to my core,” she says. “I have an aging mother; she’s my best friend. And to play this scene in a world where you can re-meet your younger mother was a beautiful and spiritual experience. It was for both Alex and I — and Mike, too. I had to step away from it for a minute because it was really potent.”
Why Mike Flanagan avoided digital effects for Midnight Mass' age transformations: “We talked at one point about doing older actors and the de-aging them digitally," says Flanagan. “And we thought the technology — we had the same conversation with Doctor Sleep — we both still feel like that technology is distracting.” Flanagan says he was also influenced by True Detective and “seeing how convincing and how willing we were as viewers to go along with seeing an actor we recognize and know is not that old, but seeing them and buying into it.”