This article contains spoilers to Midnight Mass.
There is no doubt that Mike Flanagan, the director of Doctor Sleep and The Haunting of Bly Manor, is a master in creating a unique, elevated type of horror. Instead of focusing on the display of blood or jump scares, the director uses real-life terrors to affect the viewer. Through this procedure, his works are one of the scariest productions in the contemporary horror genre. For example, Bly Manor‘s topics of passing without being remembered, grief, and tragic love story made the series personally terrifying.
His most recent television series, a Netflix original series titled Midnight Mass, was something he had long wanted to make. The show, which stars Hamish Linklater in the lead role of Father Paul—the main and only priest of the close-knit community on a Crockett Island, manages to completely perplex the viewer and provoke further discussion on the subjects of faith, its abuse in the hands of a human, and rebirth, both presented metaphorically and literally in the show. The series also addresses the issues of guilt and sobriety.
The subject of faith is central to Midnight Mass. The majority of the scenes occur in a small church on Crockett Island, whether subtle or intense. The show is a slow burn, with the first episodes focusing on the characters’ study. Flanagan devotes his full attention to each character. As a result, the audience gets to know them very well. Amongst them are Riley Flynn (Zach Gilford)—a man who returns to the island after spending years in prison for driving drunk and killing a young woman, Erin Greene (Kate Siegel)—a soon-to-be-mom teacher, and Beverly Keane (Samantha Sloyan)—a particularly annoying and God-fearing woman who is willing to die for the priest if he asks.
As Father Paul mysteriously arrives on the island, strange things begin to happen, such as dead cats appearing on the beach or creatures with shiny eyes hiding in the dark. Nothing is scarier, however, than the resident’s unexplainable de-aging. Sarah Gunning (Annabeth Gish), a doctor on Crockett Island, surely attempts to solve the mystery, especially since her barely walking mother, Mildred (Alex Essoe), can suddenly stand, run, and even attend mass. But, while solving the puzzle is intriguing, the main issue is the residents’ God-fearing and Catholic attitude. They all have a strong faith in God, and while not everyone can afford to go to the measures of one Beverly Keane, the townspeople soak up every word of Father Paul like a sponge. Once could even say that the priest easily manipulates and brainwashes them, yet they still follow him “in the name of God.”
Mike Flanagan does an amazing, mind-bending job of demonstrating how dangerous and toxic faith—and faithful people—can be. It’s so simple for Father Paul to twist the words of the Bible to fit his needs and agenda. After being murdered by an “angel” and reborn, he poisons the residents with his blood “in the name of God.” Father Pruitt, who was previously old and suffering from dementia, is now young and practically indestructible. He’s using Bible verses as an excuse to tell lies and goe even as far as overlooking a murder. The latter is truly terrifying, especially when compared to real life. People of faith who believe that being a part of the LGBTQ+ community is an unforgivable sin don’t yet justify murder, but they are on their way to saying less and doing more.
Midnight Mass brilliantly depicts the aftermath of faith being used to mask the agendas of others. The show’s final three episodes, particularly its heartbreaking finale, truly encapsulate it. When Father Paul realizes what he has done, it’s too late and simply impossible to undo.
The identity of the “angel” responsible is unknown. Although the priest wholeheartedly believes that God sent the bloodthirsty creature to resurrect him and the residents, he is more likely to be an ancient vampire. It’s unclear whether Father Paul truly believes he’s an angel or if he’s just using it to mask his plan, and we can only speculate.
In Midnight Mass, Flanagan takes the theme of rebirth quite literally. After the “angel” drinks his blood, Father Paul is reborn, and the man then makes the decision for his parishioners and takes the choice away from them. They, too, are reborn for a brief time.
However, the rebirth can also be interpreted symbolically, as in Riley’s character. The Flynns’ oldest son, brilliantly portrayed by Zach Gilford, begins his life anew after returning to the island. Riley, who is still haunted by his past actions, keeps seeing a young woman he murdered while driving drunk. His rebirth is slow and subtle. The man spends the most time with Erin now that he is sober. In the final scene with Siegel’s character on the boat, we see him truly reborn. He lets go of the guilt, and he allows himself to be forgiven. The intensity of the moment, filled with emotions, grows even stronger as he burns to ashes.
Midnight Mass has many other wonderful aspects. Among them are a stellar cast, stunning direction, and an emotional soundtrack composed by The Newton Brothers. Furthermore, the series tells a unique story and brilliantly explores it. In today’s world, the topic of faith and its abuse for selfish purposes has become personal. Midnight Mass becomes one of the scariest series this year due to this aspect, and I cannot recommend it highly enough.