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'The Midnight Club': Mike Flanagan balances decay and dreams well

'The Midnight Club' - Mike Flanagan
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Mike Flanagan is a horror machine. The director has been on a roll with his Netflix productions as late, producing the likes of The Haunting of the Hill House and The Haunting of Bly Manor to Midnight Mass. The filmmaker loves adapting the works of novelists into Netflix series that are typically ten episodes long. His latest eponymous creation is adapted from the 1994 Christopher Pike novel​, The Midnight Club. Flanagan became the epitome of horror filmmaking on Netflix due to his nuanced understanding of the genre. The way in which he dealt with the sensitivity of death and horror in his films was like no other, and Flanagan’s masterful control over the realm of spatial and psychological horror sets him apart from other filmmakers.  

The Midnight Club is a poignant and audacious attempt by Flanagan to collaborate with Leah Fong to create a ten-episode series that focuses on a sensitive and morbid issue. The story begins in a hospice called Brightcliffe, which houses a set of terminally ill teenagers who are dying. Their bodies are dying, but their dreams are not, and that is where the show’s central conflict lies; the teenagers’ predicaments drag in the audience by their lapels and screams in their faces. One cannot help but wait in morbid anticipation as Flanagan and Fong’s genius unravels on screen. 

Flanagan questioned family and mental health in Hill House; Bly Manor examined love and loss, while Midnight Mass questioned faith and religion. The Midnight Club is an eclectic collection of ghost stories that have the ailing children at the centre. They have all come to Brightcliffe to receive treatment under the watchful eyes of a doctor, played by Heather Langenkamp. As they bond over their shared misery, the teens meet at night in the library to “make ghosts” and essentially spook each other with ghost stories. 

Enter Ilonka, a smart teen whose dreams of attending Stanford are interrupted by the sudden discovery of thyroid cancer. Determined to get better, Ilonka is drawn in by the story of Julia Jayne, a girl from the 1960s who was cured at Brightcliffe. Thus begins Ilonka’s obsessive quest to get to the bottom of the mystery and cure herself. Flannagan delicately balances the death and decay of the body with the aspirations of the mind, painting a solemn story that tugs at the heartstrings.

The show then splits up in two halves, with every episode having a story within the story. The series has a set of newcomers who are brilliant in their roles. They include Igby Rigney, Annarah Cymone, Ruth Codd, Adia, Chris Sumpter, Sauriyan Sapkota and Aya Furukawa. Flanagan is notorious for repeating cast members and features Samantha Sloyane, Rahul Kohli and Zach Gilford in smaller roles.

The stories that the children tell are derived from other Christopher Pike tales. While Flanagan’s series has made the news for the insane number of jump scares, the beauty of the story lies embedded in the lengthy monologues. The characters are immersed in the stories they tell that range from noir to horror, and the accounts echo their innermost thoughts and provide an intimate portrait of who they are. The heavy medications they are on prevent them from distinguishing between dreams and reality, hallucinations and the hyper-real as the dark shadow constantly pursue them. Shadows of the past, shadows of the house and the shadows of their terminal illness.  

A classic Flanagan creation, the series soon sees the feature of a cult, a harrowing secret and various other heartbreaking moments laden with Easter Eggs that require a separate space to be decoded. While The Midnight Club is a delight, it is not as good as the previous creations of the Flanagan-verse, simply because the filmmaker is too ambitious and tries to incorporate too many stories at one go, muddling the narrative.

The cliffhanger is typical of Flanagan and will probably remain unaddressed. However, The Midnight Club has already upped the anticipation for his upcoming series, which is also based on Edgar Allan Poe’s work, The Fall of the House of Usher.