/horror goes to church with “Midnight Mass” [2021]

I really like Mike Flanagan’s tv exploits. I thoroughly enjoyed ‘The Haunting of Hill House’ and I sobbed at ‘The Haunting of Bly Manor’. I was beyond thrilled to see the next series would be set in a fishing village because that’s very much (/horror Learns About The Matriarchy With “Blow The Man Down”) my hometown experience, and then for it to also be aggressively Catholic? Huzzah! I’m going to discuss the entire series so spoilers ahead.

When I say I was raised Catholic, I need you to understand that my mother was the youth minister and the choir director. I was an altar child. I led song and solo’d psalms. I went to a seminar on why the new translation was happening. I was raised very, very, very Catholic. Now, I no longer practice for about one thousand reasons, but I am constantly revisiting Catholicism and the weird sort of ‘uncool magic’ of it. In fact I even have an ongoing personal art series about the mysticism and ritual of the religion because it is really really fascinating stuff.

‘Midnight Mass’ really understands this. It was evocative to a creepy degree for me personally. Unlike ‘Hill House’ or ‘Bly Manor’, it doesn’t deal strictly with grief, or even with guilt, rather it leans closer to “The Mist” where a supernatural element/creature challenges a population.

Now, I didn’t find it to be a particularly subtle plot. I think most people who have seen ‘Bram Stoker’s Dracula’ or know a bit more than average about vampires were pretty much expecting a vampiric presence as soon as we saw the large trunk exit the ferry and then upon seeing the great deal of cats on the island. Similarly the Paul/John Pruitt reveal was similarly undercut but I’m not sure that it was intended to be a big reveal. The old age makeup on everyone is quite good but also not good enough, however an incredibly ballsy move.

My biggest quibble with ‘Midnight Mass’ is that some of the plot points are a bit under-baked. I didn’t see much motivation for Hassan’s son Ali to convert so enthusiastically, nor did I think Pruitt’s abrupt redemption arc was particularly earned. I was happy to not be as emotionally devastated at the end as I was with ‘Bly Manor’ but I think it was a bit because the narrative hustled a little too hard.

MIDNIGHT MASS (L to R) HAMISH LINKLATER as FATHER PAUL in episode 103 of MIDNIGHT MASS Cr. COURTESY OF NETFLIX © 2021

The things I loved about ‘Midnight Mass’ was how it was able to offer some commentary on the zealous-ness of the church and in particular some of the absolutely blind faith. Pruitt is so eager to accept the vampire as an ‘angel’ despite practically no evidence otherwise, and continues to feel that way even after his mind returns to full health. Bev Keane (who is literally every woman in my church growing up) has a bible verse for everything, even when it contradicts something she’s said just a few moments ago. When you want something badly enough, when you need the comfort of a higher power badly enough (and as the struggling town will tell you, they need a higher power), you will believe in just about anything that offers relief or hope.

Showing Pruitt’s encounter with the angel in wooden relief with the stations of the cross was just fascinating. The choice of hymns was also really well-done, I think, and not just because “Were You There” will haunt me in my dreams forever – to use it as a leitmotif was inspired.

I’ve had some really lively conversations about ‘Midnight Mass’ in the last few days – if they had made the vampire look more angelic would that have been a bad thing? It might have leant credence to Pruitt’s interpretation and we would have lost some of the tension between the audience and the character. Riley and Erin’s speeches about death were both fascinating and it’s doubly fascinating that Erin described closer to what the vampire offered and that Riley was denied his version of death. I loved how long and slow the monologues were because everyone got to give a sermon but the actual sermons were edited to feel more aggressive then they would if you were seated in a pew. I also really enjoyed basically everyone’s acting, no weak spots to be found there.

‘Midnight Mass’ is seven episodes long and there are a million things I could talk about but this is a short article so I’m just going to advise you watch it. It’s not as ‘scary’ as ‘Hill House’ or ‘Bly Manor’ (in my opinion) so if you don’t normally check out this sort of thing, you might enjoy it.

On a side note, Flanagan’s next project is ‘The House of Usher’ and I am BEYOND excited because the Roger Corman iteration with Vincent Price was my gateway drug into horror. /horror visits “The House of Usher” (1960)

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