A Midnight Mass-terpiece or Mass-acre?

A discussion of Netflix's latest horror-mini series from the mind of Mike Flanagan - does it live up to the success of its predecessors?

Michael Duckworth
20th October 2021
A mysterious creature has infiltrated the pious community of Crockett Island. Unbeknownst to the residents of the isolated village, their newly arrived priest has struck a deal with a devil, and the consequences will be positively biblical. 

Some spoilers ahead! 

Midnight Mass initially focuses on the protagonist and ardent atheist Riley Flynn (Zach Gilford) who has just been released from a four-year prison sentence after killing a woman in a drunk driving incident. Deep in guilt and regret and struggling to reconnect with his devout family, he finds solace in childhood friend Erin Greene (Kate Siegel). He begins to attend AA meetings on the island with the charismatic man of God, Father Paul Hill (Hamish Linklater), who has come to the island to temporarily take over the role from the elderly, ailing Monsignor Pruitt. 

The sleepy village is shaken to its core when Father Hill commands the wheelchair-bound Leeza (Annarah Cymone) to walk up the church steps to take communion, and to everyone's surprise, she does. 

Credit: IMDb

The growing popularity of Father Hill’s miraculous sermons begins to divide the community. The power-hungry Bev Keane (Samantha Sloyan) clings to the coattails of the seemingly benevolent priest, while Sheriff Hassan (Rahul Kohli), Dr Gunning (Annabeth Gish) and the previously mentioned primary school teacher Erin Greene hold suspicions around Father Hill’s true intent and his growing influence over the townspeople. These members of the core cast in particular all deliver knockout performances that will inevitably shatter your heart by the final episode. 

The tight-knit community and each individual character feel entirely real. The attention to detail and open, vulnerable conversations allow the viewer to buy into the world of Midnight Mass. However, the villain of the piece is, unfortunately, comically unbelievable. Not helped by the show's insistence on showing us the creature in full spotlight. The open secret to keeping a monster scary is hiding it in the shadows and letting the human imagination do the rest. This is where Midnight Mass, unfortunately, falls apart. They keep the origins of the so-called angel a mystery but then have him trot down the aisle of the church in full priestly cosplay, a bizarre and frankly hilarious decision. 

Credit: IMDb

However, the calamity of Crockett Island is captivating to watch. Each character seems well placed in the community and following their descent into Father Hill’s death cult, or their fight against it, is intensely thrilling. Luckily, the ghoulish Scooby-Doo like angel is not around enough to put a stain on the inter-personal drama that drives the main conflict of the show. 

Unsurprisingly, the shows central struggle revolves around religion, its role in society, how it can bring people together or tear people apart, and how easily it can be hijacked by morally corrupt figures. However, the series fails to tackle these issues with any real conviction. When the show seems close to making some sort of commentary it falls back on a generic “Catholicism Scary” trope reminiscent of such cinematic travesties as The Nun

What began as an interesting perspective on life as a Muslim police officer facing the open Islamophobic distrust in post 9/11 rural America becomes a trite ‘racism bad’ plot line.

Rahul Kohli’s character is a Muslim, he's a victim of the post 9/11 institutional racism within the police force and struggles to gain the trust of the majority Christian populous of Crockett Island. The initial “casual” racism of some residents is truly insidious, yet this plot point goes nowhere. All the “heroes” defend Hassan and his right to religious freedom, and the villainous Bev resorts to openly calling him a terrorist. What began as an interesting perspective on life as a Muslim police officer facing the open Islamophobic distrust in post 9/11 rural America becomes a trite ‘racism bad’ plot line.

Credit: IMDb

Mike Flanagan's latest horror mini-series hit Netflix in September, following on from his The Haunting Of duo that succeeded in scaring the wits out of people across the globe. Did Midnight Mass live up to its predecessors? Well, the short answer is no, but comparing these series is like apples and oranges. Midnight Mass took a bold new step in a more monster-focused direction, as opposed to the ghostly antics of Flanaghan's past. It opened with a fascinating presence and a well-constructed sense of impending doom and closes on a gripping finale of epic proportions.

It is clear a lot of care was taken in the representations of faith - the belief systems of each character are integral to their actions and motivations. This ultimately constructs a rather intricate mosaic of charming and thoroughly human characters, shattered and corrupted by an evil force beyond their control - absolutely worth a binge-watch this Halloween season. 

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