By: Jonathan J. Williams
During the immense hype and popularity of Squid Game, there was a quiet series that simultaneously made its debut that went almost unnoticed. This was MIDNIGHT MASS, a horror mini-series from The Haunting of Hill House creator Mike Flanagan. MIDNIGHT MASS tells the story of an isolated island community in New England that experiences miracles and frightening encounters following the arrival of a mysterious new preacher (played by Hamish Linklater) who leads their local parish after the mysterious disappearance of their former pastor.
While MIDNIGHT MASS may not contain as much wide appeal as The Haunting of Hill House, it is another excellent gothic tale. Here, Flanagan tells a story of faith gone astray. We meet a close community of people of similar, but varying levels of faith, ranging from the downright zealous, to those who have experienced trauma, and have given up their hometown beliefs for a nihilistic view of what happens to us beyond the grave.
What is refreshing in the show's writing is that Flanagan has reserved any judgments or assumptions about the faith of the characters populating the small town, leaving room for the audience to make assumptions for themselves. We live with these characters, and even find an understanding of the most extreme believers.
Instead, Flanagan expertly creates a commentary on the state of faith in our country, by showing how easily our faith and beliefs can be led astray. How it can divide a community, and spoil what may have originally started as an authentic and personal expression of belief. How mob mentality and power can wreak havoc on a community, and create prejudices and hate out of fear
of the unknown.
WARNING: THE NEXT PART CONTAINS SPOILERS
As the show progresses, we discover that the mysterious preacher did not arrive alone. A dark creature of unknown origin begins to feed off people in the town. Meanwhile, we learn that the source of the preacher's awe-inspiring miracles has been a trick. He is not conjuring miracles, but feeding the townspeople blood from the creature through the communion wine. Its effects restore health and vitality to many of the unsuspecting townspeople, who are more inspired than
frightened by these recent revelations.
The preacher is convinced this creature is an angel of the Lord, sent to bring everlasting life to the community, and reward the most faithful believers. Reminiscent of Stephen King’s Salem's Lot, we quickly discover that this creature is no angel of the Lord, but a vampire looking to create disciples of his own in order to infect the world. The townspeople quickly find themselves divided as more and more become ensnared in the vampire’s trap. Even those of honest and devout faith find themselves the targets of a community that has become increasingly zealous in the wake of their newfound immortality. Now, the town's preacher must reckon with the realization that he has led his flock astray, and created monsters, when his only intention was to inspire and create a more tangible faith for his community.
The show is more a gothic tale than a horror show, creating a perfect analogy to faith in our times by alluding to issues such as QAnon and divisions faith can create among family members and friends, without becoming too political or shame-inducing. It shows how faith evolves, is exploited, and in some instances even reconciled. Flanagan perfectly encompasses an eerie tone that builds as the show reaches a climax.
While religious horror can be a tricky subject not suited for everyone, MIDNIGHT MASS traverses these waters with expertise by neither judging nor preaching. With an ending that is both satisfying and poignant, MIDNIGHT MASS leaves the viewer to ponder questions about their mortality and beliefs.
All seven episodes of MIDNIGHT MASS are currently available to stream on Netflix.