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Netflix's Midnight Mass is a deeply affecting reflection on death, faith, guilt, addiction and the power of free will

  • "Simply put, I can't stop thinking about Midnight Mass," says Kristen Baldwin. "The 7-episode limited series from Mike Flanagan — the horror impresario behind Netflix's Hill House and Bly Manor — isn't perfect, but it is a keenly affecting, beautifully acted reflection on death, faith, guilt, addiction, and the power of free will." Baldwin adds that "the show requires sharp attention as a viewer, not just to the action but to the ideas and observations the characters debate along the way...As an allegory, Midnight Mass doesn't have anything particularly groundbreaking to say about religion as an opiate of the masses. That's okay; the power here lies in the profoundly human struggles faced by the faithful and the doubting Thomases in Father Paul's flock. Beyond the jump scares and the suspense and the looming dread, Midnight Mass summons a message of hope: Sometimes it's okay to be your own savior."

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    • Despite its passion, Midnight Mass lacks the precision of previous Mike Flanagan projects: "The screenwriting is less solid than the direction....and Midnight Mass may lose your attention between moments of dazzle," says Daniel D'Addario. "It’s likely that there’s a solid feature film within the project, but seven episodes, six over an hour long, represent a commitment for a story that’s fairly simple, and embroidered with philosophical questions unanswerable at any length. Flanagan stretches out: The town sheriff (Rahul Kohli), late in the series, delivers a monologue explaining why he came to Crockett Island after facing religious prejudice in policing. Kohli, a gifted past Flanagan collaborator (2020’s The Haunting of Bly Manor), can sell it, and it’s compelling in the moment. But for the benefit of the whole, these revelations would have more impact braided into the story — or left unstated."
    • Midnight Mass is more an exploration of organized religion than a horror series: "Flanagan’s latest Netflix limited series — his third in four years, after respective hauntings at Hill House and Bly Manor — may be the furthest he’s pushed the subtext to date and it may, in turn, be his least purely scary offering," says Daniel Fienberg. "Midnight Mass (which crosses Needful Things with another King story that I won’t name so as not to spoil anything) isn’t braced with a single clear allegorical support beam. It’s about grief and addiction, but more than anything it’s an exploration of organized religion. This is clearly the work of someone who has taken a deep inventory of his spiritual upbringing. That surely won’t keep some viewers from calling it bizarrely sacrilegious (it is, usually by intent) and others from lamenting how frequently it ignores the need for genre thrills in favor of long monologues about creed and ritual (it does, probably by intent). I found it consistently committed and admirably bonkers, even when it tested my patience. Whatever your reactions to the show happen to be, and some people are going to absolutely hate it, those reactions will come from a very personal and primal place, just like the place Flanagan has mined to make it."
    • Midnight Mass is a bit too long-winded: "The first few episodes meander along without much sense of urgency (most of the episodes run more than an hour), sprinkling just enough clues to indicate that something wicked this way comes," says Brian Lowry. "When the explanations finally do come pouring out, they're not wholly satisfying, though they provoke some serious conversations about interpreting the Bible and unexpected reactions within Paul's flock. There's also an interesting if somewhat underdeveloped subplot about the Muslim sheriff (Rahul Kohli) and how he and his son fit in as the church's role becomes more inflamed. Buoyed by a cast that includes Henry Thomas and Annabeth Gish, what distinguishes Midnight Mass perhaps more than anything is the nature of its ideas and the extent to which Flanagan clearly wants to contemplate them while toying with horror conventions, seeking to engage the audience in unexpectedly layered fashion. The climax, however, is more puzzling than stirring, proving chaotic in ways that ultimately don't make much sense. That doesn't necessarily undermine the more interesting aspects, but as it closes the books, Midnight Mass triggers too much soul-searching about whether it was worth the time investment."
    • Midnight Mass is a long sermon worth hearing out: "I suspect any practicing Catholic who watches Mike Flanagan’s Midnight Mass will tune out from time to time, when the seemingly unedited, overlapping monologues get out of hand, just as they’ll sit up a little straighter when its genre-blending religious interrogation reaches its shrewd points about the dangers and benefits of faith," says Ben Travers. "In the best-case scenario, the seven-episode series will remind anyone who believes in a higher power not to let that belief carry them too deep into darkness; that God’s teachings are up for interpretation on purpose, and no one person or religion has all the answers. Worst case, folks might fall asleep in their seats — but hey, this wouldn’t be the first time, or the worst time, that’s happened. Before getting into spoilers (you will be warned), Midnight Mass is the latest limited horror series from Flanagan, the director behind The Haunting of Hill House and The Haunting of Bly Manor (not to mention films like Doctor Sleep, Oculus, and Hush). Like previous efforts, his new story is far more interested in its themes and characters than sustained terror or bloody mayhem. Flanagan has always shown great empathy for the people in his stories and great respect for the trauma they’ve gone through; the unnerving supernatural elements typically don’t represent a great evil or lead to a monstrous villain, so much as they’re used to reframe established horror archetypes and encourage compassion."
    • Midnight Mass is the thought-provoking opposite of Hill House and Bly Manor: "Where Hill House and Bly Manor are more blatant works of horror containing deeper issues buried within their ghost stories, Midnight Mass is practically the opposite," says Jen Chaney. "It contains some frightening scenes, a couple of jump scares, and a few pumps of nightmare fuel, to be sure. But this is more of a serious drama that happens to shoot some chills up the spine from time to time. It is evocative of both a specific Stephen King novel and a recent work of television horror, neither of which I will mention here because they would spoil one — though not the only — crucial twist in the series. I don’t want to spoil that, not just because Netflix specifically asked critics not to, but because viewers deserve to take this journey with as few preconceived notions as possible...But telling this story in seven installments instead of the ten it took to unspool Hill House and Bly Manor makes for a tighter and more satisfying experience overall. It’s particularly poignant in its reflection of the current cultural moment, as humanity chases cures for illness and certain factions distort any biblical verse to justify selfish, destructive behavior."
    • Midnight Mass is an unholy clash of the sacred and the profane: "There is a good reason why horror tends merely to toy with religious symbolism, leaving viewers to fill in the gaps themselves," says Jack Seale. "If you try to unpack what lurking monsters have to say about the meaning of life to the extent that Flanagan does here, the illusion collapses and you are left with something boring and absurd. Midnight Mass is formed of seven discursive episodes when four or five allusive ones would have been more powerful. This is all the more frustrating, given Flanagan’s evident film-making skill. He is a master of the jump-scare, an exponent of unnecessary but pleasing long takes – there is a cracker to introduce episode two, the camera carefully circling actors walking and talking on a beach for seven unbroken minutes – and a lover of unexpected camera angles, particularly domestic scenes seen unsettlingly from above."
    • Flanagan's work isn't as good when it's not an adaptation: "With elements of The Stand, The Shining, and Salem’s Lot, Flanagan’s study of religion and immortality sometimes rekindles memories of actual midnight masses in that it can be a little exhausting in its preachiness with a few too many monologues," says Brian Tallerico. "While there are some excellent performances and engaging themes, it also turns out that Flanagan, when untethered from the plot of source material like The Haunting or Doctor Sleep, can get a little too wordy and repetitive for his own good. If this were a King novel, it would be one of those 900-page behemoths that often goes unfinished by readers, and those who did barrel through it would admire the ambition of the authorial effort while also wondering if an editor might have helped. Again like a lot of sermons of my youth, Midnight Mass is abundant with connected themes and overt symbolism. Flanagan is playing with the darker side of religious scripture, connecting things like resurrection and drinking blood to a different kind of mythology. After all, horror and religion have a lot in common, often serving up similar themes of morality and vanquishing of evil, only in different cloth. Some of Flanagan’s most ambitious elements here play with the idea that The Bible truly is a horror story, while also weaving very King-like themes into the fabric, primarily the conflict between human responsibility and the thinking that belief can wash away all sin."
    • Midnight Mass taps into your brain like a dream: "We may bring our own religious baggage to the party, but Flanagan's story has a way of triggering it, evoking thoughts so carefully tucked away. And for that, it thrives," says Shania Russell. "Midnight Mass demands a vow of secrecy from those who watch because the less you know, the better. Lead-up to the release took care to keep the mystery alive, and still Flanagan has tirelessly made one thing very clear: This is not The Haunting of Hill House nor its sister series, Bly Manor. Those may be the reason his name strikes a chord, if not his delightfully wicked Stephen King adaptation Doctor Sleep. But Midnight Mass beats to the sounds of its own drum, asking you to leave his prior work at the door and allow it the space to carve its own indent into your mind. There you'll find the tattered, shabby imprints of Crockett Island, an isolated island community, slowly dissolving into non-existence."
    • Mike Flanagan wants to tamp down on expectations Midnight Mass is Season 3 of The Haunting: “One of the reasons why we’re very careful to calibrate the expectations properly is that I do feel like people who mistakenly approach this material the same way they would approach Hill House or Bly are going to be surprised to find it’s so different,” says Flanagan. He adds: “And while there are familiar faces and familiar kind of esthetic techniques that just come with it being an Intrepid project, if you spend the show looking for hidden ghosts, you’re going to be really, really disappointed. So, yeah, The Haunting, which we love for its own reasons, whether or not we find a way to get a third iteration of that up in the future is wide open. I think we’re just very careful not to incorrectly make people expect this to be that.”
    • Flanagan has been toiling with the story that would become Midnight Mass since he was 10 years old, even if he didn't realize it at the time: Flanagan says he first started thinking about the horror overtones of religion as an alter boy. Flanagan adds that Midnight Mass allows him to confront the ghosts from his past after three years of sobriety. "I don't know how long I could have gone without writing it," he says. "There's a very natural thing that happens where, if you're writing anything that tiptoes into a personal place, you find yourself vomiting up all sorts of things into it. It's happened to me with Hill House in a pretty big way. It happened with (The Haunting of Bly Manor). This one, though, was the story I always wanted to tell." 
    • Flanagan admits having unease writing his own original story after doing so many adaptations: “There’s nowhere for me to hide now,” he says. “Behind Stephen King is a great place to hide. This is much more frightening.” As his most personal work, Midnight Mass is inspired by some of his most persistent fixations, as well as his experiences with religion and addiction. "When you’re talking about the afterlife and the soul, you’re talking about ghosts,” he says. “We can’t help but be attracted to the idea that death isn’t the end for us, and that we’re going to see the people we’ve lost again. That idea is one of the things that interested me in horror in the first place, and is as much behind our religions as it is behind our horror fiction.”
    • Read Flanagan's explanation for Midnight Mass' ending

    TOPICS: Midnight Mass, Netflix, The Haunting of Bly Manor , The Haunting Of Hill House, Mike Flanagan




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