Recovering alcoholic and altar boy-turned-atheist Riley Flynn (Zach Gilford) returns to his isolated island community of Crocket Island — population 127 and falling — after being released from prison. Things take a turn for the strange when mysterious new priest Father Paul Hill (Hamish Linklater) arrives and apparently starts performing miracles.
Episodes viewed: 7 of 7
Streaming on: Netflix
With The Haunting Of Hill House and Bly Manor, writer/director Mike Flanagan proved himself a master of longform-TV horror. And while it bears no narrative relation to either of those limited series (despite featuring several familiar faces), his latest show is a worthy, albeit potentially divisive, addition to the Flanacanon.
Midnight Mass is primarily a thoughtful though occasionally verbose satire on religion, with Roman Catholicism bearing the brunt of the showrunner’s scrutiny. Its characters cover the spectrum of belief, from the self-righteously pious to the committedly atheistic, not forgetting those who follow a different path to God (represented by the Muslim town sheriff, played by Bly Manor’s Rahul Kohli). The story, initially at least, circles around how each responds to the apparent ability of their new priest (Hamish Linklater) to heal ailments before their eyes. Is this truly the touch of God or… something else?
At times you might want the catechisms to stop and the supernatural shenanigans to take wing; at others you’ll feel happy to embrace the slow-burning and soul-searching — especially during an especially entrancing monologue about what happens when we die.
The series is also Flanagan’s own twisted take on a particular strand of horror mythos. To specify which is way too much of a spoiler, but the clues are seeded early and find their source in the act of Holy Communion: that strange-to-unbelievers rite where wafer and wine are offered as the flesh and blood of Christ himself.
Flanagan rewards us for our patience during the slower early episodes. Come the final two hours, he really lets rip with the action.
It’s a neat, thematic and deliciously heretical spin on a beloved subgenre, though it does suffer slightly in the light of its cultural ubiquity. The God-fearing and godforsaken fisherfolks of the remote, rundown Crockett Island might not get out much, but it’s hard to believe they themselves could be so completely unaware of such a prevalent piece of folklore and so incapable of joining dots which, for most people, would be bloody obvious.
Fortunately, Flanagan’s cast do much to distract us from this niggle. Linklater is absorbing as Father Hill, the enigmatic miracle-worker who announces himself as a surprise stand-in for the ancient and infirm town priest, last seen embarking on a Holy Land pilgrimage. It’s a tricky role to pull off — all too easy to tilt into ‘creepy’ — but he somehow breathes warmth and relatability into the darkest places. Similarly, Hill House’s Samantha Sloyan takes the spiritually snobbish, town-busybody archetype and manages to dial up the nasty without descending into soap-operatics.
Flanagan also rewards us for our patience during the slower early episodes. Come the final two hours, he really lets rip with the action as horrifically misplaced acts of faith and love bear their diseased fruit. And, to be fair, without its five-hour mystery-weaving build-up, it’s hard to imagine Midnight Mass’ ferocious climax hitting so hard.
Mike Flanagan chews thoughtfully on both religious and horror icons with his latest mini-series, resulting in a show that some might find more challenging than his Hauntings. But it’s ultimately heady material and an interesting new take on an old concept.