Vengeful Binge

“Unsolved Mysteries” Will Return to Netflix With Brand New Episodes in Summer 2022

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Few storytellers kill their darlings as well as Mike Flanagan. Or more to the point, few storytellers make you care so much about the story’s characters. It causes their trauma, pain, heartbreak, and often worse, to hurt that much more when the horror hits. Flanagan’s only sharpened that skill to a sharp, pointy edge with long-form storytelling, letting you get even more deeply attached over multiple episodes. And Netflix’s limited series Midnight Mass cuts deep.

Riley Flynn (Zach Gilford) returns home to the small community of Crockett Island to pick up the pieces of his life. He committed a horrendous sin that’s left him disgraced in the eyes of many of the island’s residents, including his dad (Henry Thomas). Riley’s homecoming coincides with the arrival of the charismatic Father Paul (Hamish Linklater), who seems to inspire a series of miracles that incurs religious fervor like no other. The real question becomes whether these miracles are a gift from God or if they come with a price.

Flanagan, who directed all seven episodes, bides his time in building the horror to present the interior lives of this community. Riley is merely the gateway into this brilliantly cast ensemble, many of which are recurring players in Flanagan’s works. Two welcome Riley back with open arms, his mother Annie (Kristin Lehman) and childhood sweetheart Erin Greene (Kate Siegel). From that center of this twisted web spins out an intricate tapestry of an isolated community, all with different holes in their hearts that the allure of a higher power promises to fill.

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

But just when you feel you have your fingers on the pulse of this quaint little village and all of its faults, Flanagan drops in a visceral horror moment that catches you by the throat. It’s subtle, at first. Just enough to hook you into hitting play immediately on the subsequent episode, and then it builds. And builds. Dread simmers just beneath the surface, the alarm bells ringing in the distance until it crescendos into a full-scale reign of terror of biblical proportions. What’s happening is evident but unspoken by design- this is a supernatural depiction of temptation and corruption, redemption and salvation. Of the selfish and selfless.

Nearly all of the characters garner empathy, even the most broken, save one cruel antagonist. The trademark Flanagan monologues are in abundance here and allow the actors to shine in riveting ways. Supporting player Robert Longstreet rips your heart right out of your chest, outmatching his memorable speech from The Haunting of Hill House. Gilford and Siegel bring a quiet, reflective peace. Annabeth Gish and Rahul Kohli infuse their characters with a cool-headed intelligence that leaves you desperate for them to walk away unscathed. But while Midnight Mass works as an ensemble, Linklater’s magnetic turn clinches the entire thing together. Father Paul’s arc is the most dramatic, a man who buys into his faith so thoroughly that it’s blinding, both a blessing and a dark, dark curse.

MIDNIGHT MASS (L to R) RAHUL KOHLI as SHERIFF HASSAN and MATT BIEDEL as STURGE in episode 102 of MIDNIGHT MASS Cr. EIKE SCHROTER/NETFLIX © 2021

Even when it’s apparent to the horror fan what’s transpiring, Flanagan still manages to avoid a predictable trajectory. The human cost is jaw-dropping and audacious, and guessing fates or outcomes becomes impossible. It’s as thrilling as it can be heartbreaking. The one flaw to this utterly compelling series, though, is its messy conclusion. The emotional beats hit hard, and the actors sell the hell out of their story’s end even when some of the narrative choices and rules get a little sloppy. Questions of easier paths or dangling threads not taken threaten to overshadow the perfection up until this point.

Then again, that flawed ending thematically fits; it requires a leap of faith in specific ways. But not even a small stumbling in the final act can diminish what Flanagan’s created in Midnight Mass. This type of horror leaves a mark. It’s as though Flanagan became such a quick study of what makes Stephen King’s small-town horror tales resonate and is now primed to outpace the master.

Midnight Mass releases on Netflix on September 24, 2021.

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