The Midnight Club is not a sequel, despite what you may think.
Mike Flanagan’s forthcoming spooky anthology series geared toward teens based on a Christopher Pike novel, which comes out later this week on Netflix, has nothing to do with his previous work — despite some similarities in their names.
All of Flanagan’s titles for Netflix produced under his multiyear deal with the streamer (The Haunting of Bly Manor, The Haunting of Hill House, and Gerald’s Game) are worth a watch, but if you had to choose one to start with, it should be Midnight Mass.
Midnight Mass is what happens when you throw monsters into the population of a teeny-tiny island with fervent Catholic convictions. The story is heavily inspired by Stephen King’s novel Salem’s Lot, and loosely inspired by Flanagan’s childhood days as an altar boy, along with his struggles overcoming addiction. The combination results in a haunting tale with more frightening monologues than jumpscares.
“Here’s this long scene I had written about atheism. Let me look at that a few years later and rebut it. Let me try to honestly come in and challenge my own idea. Here’s a long scene about alcoholism. Let me really try to come in and talk about recovery,” Flanagan recalled in an interview with Entertainment Weekly last year. “Being in conversation with my various selves over the last 11 years, that have all dipped into this story, that’s what makes it so personal for me. I don’t know that I’ll ever be lucky enough to have that experience again with another piece of work.”
The work is a continuous and unflinching look at grief, remorse, and militant faith, the kind of show you’ll want to close your eyes for but won’t be able to look away from. “The ideas at the root of this show scare me to my core,” Flanagan posted on Twitter before Midnight Mass’ release, acknowledging that just because there isn’t a demonic flesh-eating angel lurking in the shadows every minute, that doesn’t mean Midnight Mass isn’t bone-chilling.
Midnight Mass starts with the murder of a young teenage girl by a man asleep at the wheel. Riley Flynn (Zach Gilford), a former startup investor and finance bro, can’t shake the guilt he feels over leaving the gruesome car accident with only a hangover and a scratch. He winds up serving time for the crime, but after a relatively short sentence he heads back home to a fishing town with less than 100 people surrounded by miles of water. Riley’s reintegration tasks are daunting, but not supernatural: He must repair his relationship with his parents, brother, and ex-girlfriend Erin (Kate Siegel), avoid the bottle, and find purpose through the pain.
Things get more complicated for Riley and the rest of Crockett Island when handsome and charismatic Father Paul Hill (Hamish Linklater) takes over the duties of the frail Monsignor John Michael Pruitt, who has mysteriously fallen ill after a spiritual retreat to Israel. With the priest’s arrival comes inexplicable, but very tangible, miracles. A resurgence of interest in Catholicism pulls even the most unlikely of churchgoers into St. Patrick’s. Hiding underneath the gilded vestments and heartfelt prayers, however, is an unsettling plan to “spread the word of God” by any means necessary.
Riley, who trusts few people and trusts God less, is not wooed by Father Paul’s charms or wowed by the blessings brought about by his mere presence. Soon he finds that not only is his hunch right but that his new purpose in life is to save those he loves from a hellish fate.
Gilford, Linklater, and Siegel are joined by a memorable ensemble cast that includes Samantha Sloyan as the detestable and hypercritical Bev Keane, Rahul Kohli as the cynical “Crock Pot” sheriff, Alex Essoe and Annabeth Gish as mother-daughter power-duo Mildred and Dr. Sarah Gunning, and Robert Longstreet as subverted town boozehound stereotype Joe Collie. Collectively, they provide a diverse group of sinners and saints to the hamlet, and make you care about the fate of Crockett Island as Riley unravels its mysteries.
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Flanagan is still building his horror empire on Netflix, which just added The Midnight Club and will expand to include The Fall of the House of Usher next. But Midnight Mass may be his greatest work yet, and it’s the perfect scary binge to get you up to speed on his style.
Midnight Mass is streaming on Netflix.