Make sure you’re alert if you watch Midnight Mass. This Netflix miniseries is exceptionally heavy on the dialogue. You’ll still follow the plot if you zone out, but you might miss a lot of the texture. There are so many layers of meaning in Midnight Mass; it feels like a banquet. I think I’d have to watch it at least three times to “eat” it all.
I saw all seven episodes. At some points it wasn’t a pleasure. The story starts slow then picks up speed in the second half. To begin with, I thought Midnight Mass had way too much speechifying in it. Nevertheless, I genuinely think it’s remarkable tv. I’m glad I watched it. I think you will be too.
Midnight Mass is set on a small island, 30 miles off the coast of the USA. Much of local life centres around St Patrick’s, the island’s Catholic church. There’s one police officer, based in a room at the back of the grocery store. The island’s doctor works out of her living room.
The community is dying. When people move away, they don’t even bother trying to sell their houses. Often, when younger people come to live on the island it’s because their lives on the mainland have gone badly wrong.
Father Paul, the new priest at St Patrick’s, wants to make life better for everyone. His plan involves the supernatural and is the reason why Midnight Mass is classified as a horror.
I do have to say, what an unusual example of that genre this show is! Christianity often features in American horror, but rarely in a way that suggests the writers have any familiarity with parish church life. In Midnight Mass we see the full beauty of Catholic services in a small church. We also see some familiar churchy characters, such as Bev Keane, perhaps the most openly devout and most horrible member of St Patrick’s.
Mike Flanagan, who wrote and directed Midnight Mass, has a deep familiarity with the Catholic Church. As a young altar boy he was struck by the horror elements in the Bible. Flanagan spent many years nurturing the story of Midnight Mass before it went into production. I suspect that explains why the show has so much depth to it.
Some readers might wonder whether Midnight Mass is anti-Christian. I don’t think that it is. Mature faith and mature spirituality can cope with nuance, ambiguity and the messiness of human life. There’s plenty of that in Midnight Mass.
You might not know the name Mike Flanagan, but it’s more than likely you’ve heard of his other work. These include Absentia, The Haunting of Bly Manor and The Haunting of Hill House.