“That’s what it means to have faith. That in the darkness, in the worst of it, in the absence of light and hope, we sing.” — Midnight Mass
While updating fans about his newest release, Midnight Mass, Mike Flanagan explained how the 2021 limited series was his “favourite project so far”. That’s because it saw the perfect blend of darkness and myth with the psychological and spatial horror emanating both from supernatural elements as well as “human nature”. However, while binging on the series, it’s easy to see the filmmaker tried hard to pack heavyweight ideas and themes into a thin series. Trying to add weight to a series like this leaves all manner of meaning falling out of the bottom of the show like a messy sandwich.
After The Haunting of Hill House and The Haunting of Bly Manor, Flanagan’s obsession with death and addiction prevails as the supreme themes within the series. Of course, he also does a good job exploring dysfunctional family dynamics, love, relationships, and more. His works have usually left a huge impact on the viewers, given how claustrophobic and unsettling the general atmosphere is. He also tends to hide Easter eggs in his scenes and relies on unusually long takes to focus audience attention on a particular scene unfolding before them.
However, Midnight Mass, heavily packed with religious symbolism, imagery and allusions, have far too many monologues for one’s liking. It is difficult to sit patiently through the nearly seven-hour long series that could have been cut short by an episode or two. It is torturous to see the characters engage in deep retrospection, laden with intellectual jargon, as they ponder over life, death and the purpose of God. God’s will and faith play a major role in the series. However, the filmmaker exposes the dark side of submitting to God without questioning him by subverting the same trope. Somewhere, he gets lost and carried away. It seems almost impossible to see characters engage in long-drawn deep discussions while bloodthirsty commoners wreak havoc in the background.
Morality, evil, faith and darkness are some of the overarching themes that Flanagan tries ambitiously to incorporate in his work. While the performances are great (from Zach Gilford, Kate Siegel, Hamish Linklater, Henry Thomas, Rahul Kohli and more), and some of the dialogue is worth noting down in our journal, the series does not leave an impact. The lack of jump scares, which are usually a characteristic of Flanagan’s work, makes the series seem somewhat bland. While the whole premise of God’s will is supposed to scare us, it leaves us confused.
The premise of the story begins with a young man having run over a woman in a state of drunken stupor. The Holy Bible makes its very unholy appearance in the prison in his hands. He is discharged four years later and his faith is replaced by blatant agnostic tendencies. Belonging to a small fishing town of Crockett Island where all that the people have left is their faith, the man has a hard time adjusting. After a dangerous oil spill, the people of Crockett Island visit St. Patrick’s Church for their Sunday mass as a route of escape.
Enter Hamish Linklater as the young and handsome priest, Father Paul, who brings a series of miracles with him. Nobody knows Paul’s dark secret except for the mayor and his wife, the local town handyman, and the parish devotee Beverely Keane. When the young man, his childhood sweetheart and the town sheriff begin suspecting foul play, the entire town is sent into a state of frenzy on the holy day of Easter Vigil.
After crushing on the priest in Fleabag, it is hard to not get distracted by Linklater as the new, mysterious priest with a brooding secret. He faints, he coughs up blood, and he rises from the dead. The pervasive theme of death and resurrection is prevalent throughout the series. However, the only resurrection I was looking forward to was that of Pike’s, the fluffy old Cane Corso who Bev Keane brutally poisoned for being a menace. And boy, she is a hateful character!
Just when one thinks they cannot hate anybody more than Netflix’s very own monster, Joe Goldberg, in walks the devout Bev Keane in her white overalls. Cunning and vile, she tries to coerce the townspeople to accept the ways of the Church and immerse themselves in their Catholic beliefs. She is completely antithetical to the idea of the townsfolk. But she holds in her hands the power to manipulate people to do whatever she pleases, including the priest himself.
The series also provided a brilliant insight into the idea of a brown Muslim family residing in a white Catholic town that almost makes them question their own faith. While Bev’s unwavering faith in Jesus Christ is understandable, we sincerely hoped for her to have a worse ending.
Mike Flanagan tries hard to incorporate the gruesome and the terror into his series but the constant circumlocution on the part of his characters and their long-drawn dialogues never seem to reach a point. It is a blend of the supernatural and the fantastic and shows the director’s ingenious creative vision with camera angles and takes, especially when he takes in the seemingly harmless and intimate scenes from an aerial view to somehow make it more unsettling.
It is a character-driven story within an eerie and isolated setting surrounded by the lonely ocean on all sides, urging one to face the darkness in their hearts and embrace their faith while questioning it. There are little Easter eggs, for example, Father Paul’s chest that contains the demonic angel, within the narrative, and the filmmaker tries to emphasize the various unexplainable mysteries that occur.
Nobody escapes their fate. Everybody dies except two harbingers of faith and hope who look on as the island is engulfed in flames. With a series of wonderful (and with heavy religious intonation) soundtracks composed by the Newton brothers, hatred, love, and healing meet at Mike Flanagan’s created confluence within Midnight Mass without having the same effect on the minds of the audience.