Mike Flanagan has experienced a significant rise, particularly after “The Haunting of Hill House.” I have been following him as a horror maestro for quite some time, and I appreciate his development. “Oculus,” “Absentia,” “Ouija,” “Before I Wake,” and especially “Hush” and “Gerald’s Game” are films worth watching. When we look at his filmography, we can see that the director adopted a completely new style for himself after “Ouija,” which draws inspiration from none other than Stephen King. The fact that “Gerald’s Game” and “Doctor Sleep” are direct adaptations of King’s works already demonstrates his inclination. However, this time, the director decided not just to reference King but to become King himself. While watching “Midnight Mass,” Stephen King might felt envious or ecstatic like crazy. I will explain why…
Let’s briefly touch upon the plot… Riley spends a long time in prison due to a car accident. When he is released, having nowhere else to go, he returns to his family’s home on Crockett Island, a remote island in the middle of the sea. His return triggers strange events on the island. The sudden departure of Monsignor Pruitt, who has been the island’s padre for many years, and the arrival of Father Paul, hasten the occurrences. The island is heading towards an irreversible change, and no one seems to notice.
Mike Flanagan has created a true King story. Even when you read the premise, you find yourself asking if it is a King story. While watching the series, I even checked IMDb at one point, wondering if I missed something and if it was an adaptation of a King story; it was not. This time, Flanagan chose to write a King-style story from scratch instead of adapting King’s work. From the simmering plot to the small-town structure, from the underlying problem to the events in the finale, almost everything screams, “I am a King story.” If Stephen King had written “Jeepers Creepers,” I believe it would have been precisely this kind of story. I don’t know if Flanagan drew inspiration from “Jeepers Creepers,” but I am certain that “Storm of the Century” is one of the primary reference sources.
As much as I love Stephen King’s TV series and films, I don’t appreciate stories that simmer slowly. Especially his TV series, they exist solely for the sake of the finale. “Midnight Mass” does exactly that, preparing for the chaos in the finale with five episodes of buildup. Until we understand what’s happening in the series, we listen to the townspeople’s conversations about “the good old days,” most of which have little to do with the story. Let me make an analogy: Mike Flanagan takes on the role of a priest throughout the series and delivers a Sunday sermon for seven episodes. As obedient viewers sitting in the church, we listen to the characters’ tirades throughout the entire series, even if we don’t really need to. Especially the character Bev Keane overwhelms us with passages from the Bible throughout the series.
Setting aside the tirades, if we come to the point we want to reach, the series depicts the results reached by a community that has closed its mind to all rational thoughts, just like in King’s works. The religiously-guided people who expect miracles receive the answers they seek from Father Paul. However, the series successfully portrays how ridiculous their choices are. The only reason I don’t criticize the series is this emphasis. The scene where Leeza and Ali enter the creature’s lair is the exact point where this emphasis is made. The vampire is so focused on feeding on blood that it hardly acknowledges the presence of the two individuals beside it. It even drunkenly waves its hand, saying, “Go away.” This is the ironic part; the fact that this creature, seen as a message from God and considered an “angel,” acts like a mindless, savage animal upon seeing blood demonstrates how flawed it is to believe in and worship such chosen entities. The vampire becomes so engrossed in its feeding frenzy, its eyes unable to see. And it is so pitiful that people desire to become this such simple and pitiful thing, which is the most ludicrous aspect of the series. At the same time, ironically, it is the most realistic aspect.
The series is quite successful in terms of direction, acting, and, of course, the effects. As someone who didn’t particularly enjoy “Hill House” and “Bly Manor,” I can say that I’m closer to “Midnight Mass.” Despite enduring endless tirades throughout the series and the story’s slow pace, I think it’s worth watching for the chaos in the church alone. The political and religious criticism Flanagan presents through the character Bev Keane and the tragic fate of those who expect miracles was enough to make me warm up to the series. In fact, understanding the mess everyone makes in the end was a massive relief for me.
In summary, Mike Flanagan, instead of simply adapting Stephen King’s works, creates a story inspired by the author’s tales that is on par with King’s works. For the series, we can say it is a 2021 blend of “Jeepers Creepers” and “Storm of the Century,” a critique of faith. When you can endure it until the last two episodes, the series manages to convey its message and the theme it slowly simmers. Although it is not a project I can praise endlessly, as I mentioned before, I believe it’s worth watching, even just for what happens in the final two episodes.
Cast & Crew
creator: Mike Flanagan
starring: Zach Gilford, Kate Siegel, Hamish Linklater, Henry Thomas, Alex Essoe
USA | 2021 | 7 EPISODES |