‘Midnight Mass’ review: A terrifying meditation on humanity, faith and the afterlife

A lovely-looking and deeply-unsettling show, Mike Flanagan’s new creation draws you in gently and keeps you in a devilish vice

Mike Flanagan (The Haunting of Hill House, The Haunting of Bly Manor) has described Midnight Mass as his most personal work. The unsettling series is an inquiry into the double barrels of faith and addiction — both of which Flanagan has struggled with. The setting, a remote island, also draws from Flanagan’s life as he spent his childhood on a lonely little island.

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The show opens with the arrival of two people to Crockett Island. Riley (Zach Gilford) returns home after serving four years in prison for killing a teenager while driving under the influence. The other arrival is a young priest, Paul Hill (Hamish Linklater), who comes as a temporary replacement for Monsignor Pruitt. The aging parish priest has gone on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land.

Riley’s homecoming is prickly; though his mother Annie (Kristin Lehman) is welcoming, his father Ed (Henry Thomas) is not as forgiving. Having lost his faith in prison, Riley finds it difficult to integrate into deeply Catholic Crockett. Erin (Kate Siegel), who used to date Riley, has also returned to Crockett. She is pregnant and staying in her mother’s house and teaching in school like her mum.

Midnight Mass

  • Season: 1
  • Episodes: 7
  • Run time: 60 to 71 minutes
  • Creator: Mike Flanagan
  • Starring: Kate Siegel, Zach Gilford, Kristin Lehman, Samantha Sloyan, Igby Rigney, Rahul Kohli, Annarah Cymone, Annabeth Gish, Alex Essoe, Rahul Abburi, Matt Biedel, Michael Trucco, Crystal Balint, Louis Oliver, Henry Thomas, Hamish Linklater
  • Storyline: A charismatic priest’s arrival on an isolated island brings miracles and mayhem

Riley’s teenage brother, Warren (Igby Rigney) like Riley is an altar boy at church. Warren with fellow altar boy, Ooker (Louis Oliver) and Ali (Rahul Abburi), the son of Sheriff Hassan (Rahul Kohli) goes to an isolated part of the island to smoke up. That is when they realise something is off with the feral cats and hulking presence.

Bev (Samantha Sloyan) is the overbearing driving force at St Patrick’s riding roughshod over the more temperate Mayor Wade (Michael Trucco) and his wife Dolly (Crystal Balint). Bev bosses everyone around from the handyman Sturge (Matt Biedel) to the sheriff. She is the one who convinces all the townsfolk to agree to a settlement when an oil spill wrecked the coastline and the fishermen’s livelihood. Meanwhile, the mayor’s daughter Leeza (Annarah Cymone) is wheelchair-bound after a shooting accident at the hands of the town drunk, Joe (Robert Longstreet).

Sarah (Annabeth Gish) is the island doctor caring for her mother Mildred (Alex Essoe), who suffers from dementia. Covering the period between Ash Wednesday and Easter Sunday, Midnight Mass has used the names of books from the Bible for the episodes, starting with Genesis through Psalms, Proverbs, Lamentations, Gospels and Acts of The Apostles culminating in Revelation.

Midnight Mass is at its strongest as it meditates on humanity, faith and the afterlife. Sheriff Hasan’s reasons for coming to the island, Erin’s coming to terms with her loss, Riley’s meditation on mortality, Bev’s scary conviction of being right and everyone else being wrong, Ed’s resentment for his son, and Joe’s refusal to forgive himself all create characters we care for intimately. The sonorous hymns including ‘Abide with Me’ (a personal favourite) add texture to these lives lived in quiet desperation.

A lovely-looking and deeply-unsettling show, Midnight Mass draws you in gently and keeps you in a devilish vice. It is towards the end when all is revealed that the show loses its punch moving from disturbing and humanist to a splatter fest. All the cast members are great with Linklater and Sloyan zooming to the top of the class. Linklater’s Father Paul sheds three skins revealing a distinct character under each one while Sloyan has nailed zealous Bev perfectly.

If you can forgive the incredibly talky bits (they are admittedly well-written), the distortion of comforting prayers (you will not be calling on the angel of god, guardian dear anytime soon) and the rather silly conclusion, Midnight Mass asks many disruptive questions that would stay with you much after the fire and brimstone ending.

Midnight Mass is currently streaming on Netflix


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