Directed by: Mike Flanagan
Premise: An isolated island community experiences a religious revival when a young priest (Hamish Linklater) takes over pastoral duties at the local church. Miracles begin happening in the community, belying an ominous secret.
What Works: Filmmaker Mike Flanagan has specialized in making horror pictures and in the last few years he has written and directed excellent adaptations of Stephen King’s work including Doctor Sleep. Flanigan has also overseen several mini-series adaptations of classic gothic literature including The Haunting of Hill House and The Haunting of Bly Manor. Midnight Mass shows influence from those sources, especially Stephen King, but this is an original work. The story ties together classic gothic horror with spiritual anguish in a tale of religious tribalism. The story centers upon the residents of Crockett Island, a community where life revolves around the local Catholic parish. A new priest (Hamish Linklater) arrives and shortly thereafter miracles begin happening in the community, inciting a religious revival among many of the townspeople. Midnight Mass is an episodic limited series and it uses that time efficiently. The story is broad with many characters and subplots and the filmmakers take their time to develop these people, establish their connections, and give them the space to evolve. The religious aspects of the story are dealt with intelligently. It’s easy to imagine a version of Midnight Mass that’s a cheap Catholic hit piece. Not this film. Although Midnight Mass is critical of faith and devotion, the filmmakers clearly take notions of spirituality and grace seriously. That’s exactly what makes the subsequent horror so distressing. The film implicitly asks whether we would recognize a miracle if we saw it and furthermore questions our ability to distinguish between good and evil. That proves difficult and Midnight Mass archives something unique in its genre. The horror is transcendent and heartbreaking. The stakes of this story aren’t just a matter of life and death but of moral cognition. Midnight Mass dramatizes the struggle to be a moral being when the institutions invested in shepherding that morality become corrupted. And this has remarkable applicability not only to religious life but to many aspects of contemporary society.
What Doesn’t: The only flaw of Midnight Mass is the religious homogeneity of the community. While not everyone on Crockett Island is Catholic or even religious, a single church services the whole population. In twenty-first century America this seems unlikely. Even small communities usually have a few denominations represented. But the fact that the community of Midnight Mass exists on an island that is quite small does make this somewhat plausible.
DVD extras: Available on Netflix.
Bottom Line: Midnight Mass is a masterpiece. It shows the potential of the genre and the limited series format. The story is long but there’s not a wasted moment and the filmmakers use the time to craft an exceptionally thoughtful and heartbreaking story.
Episode: #890 (February 6, 2022)