'Midnight Mass' preview: 'Hill House' creator's religious horror is the scariest thing on Netflix this Halloween
Halloween comes early to Netflix this year with the launch of Mike Flanagan's newest, and most personal, horror series - Midnight Mass.
Flanagan will be known to the streaming service's horror fans for hit series The Haunting of Hill House and The Haunting of Bly Manor, but this new offering is a stand-alone that's not part of the anthology.
It's a story Flanagan has apparently wanted to tell for a long time, with a fictional horror novel titled Midnight Mass cropping up briefly in a couple of his previous projects (Hush and Gerald's Game) as having been written by one of his characters.
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The filmmaker's associations go deeper than that, though - debuting the teaser trailer, he wrote: “As a former altar boy, about to celebrate three years of sobriety, it’s not hard to see what makes this so personal. The ideas at the root of this show scare me to my core.”
One of Midnight Mass's lead characters, former altar boy Riley Flynn (Zach Gilford) opens the series on the worst night of his life, responsible for a death and with some hefty personal demons to overcome during his punishment.
Years later as a recovering alcoholic, Riley eventually returns to his hometown, a remote community called Crockett Island with a tiny population and dwindling fortunes.
SPOILER: Mike Flanagan explains the ending of Midnight Mass
It's the last place he expected to end up living as an adult, just like his former childhood friend Erin who has recently split from her husband, is pregnant, and has come back to live in her late alcoholic mother's house, even taking up her old job as the island's schoolteacher.
Erin is played by Flanagan's wife Kate Siegel, who has appeared in many of his films and shows including Hill House and Bly Manor, and also played the horror author who wrote Midnight Mass in Hush.
Another newcomer to town is Sheriff Hassan (Rahul Kohli), the island's only Muslim who is facing no end of low-level racism and prejudice from the devout Christian community.
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They aren't the only new residents on the island, which almost never entices people to move in, as a mysterious and enigmatic young priest arrives at the same time to cover for Crockett's aged priest who has been taken ill on a mission to Jerusalem.
Father Paul is played by Hamish Linklater, who gives an outstanding performance with hypnotic speeches to his congregation who begin to experience miracles.
But for all of the strange and wonderful things that begin happening in the decrepit town with its community of troubled souls, there's a growing sense of menace that gets more powerful, and more oppressive, with each passing day.
As fans of Flanagan's work will know, he's a master of building suspense and creating jump-out-of-your-seat moments that can give any classic horror a run for its money.
It's definitely a different vibe to his Haunting anthology but is no less for being different and just like with his previous Netflix hits, he has an uncanny ability to bring the figures from your worst nightmares to the screen in all their terrifying glory.
Halloween usually brings with it plenty of slasher movies and corny fright films, but this stylish, relentlessly scary series will put most of them in the shade with its seven hour-long episodes impossible not to binge watch.
Midnight Mass, as the title suggests, also takes an unflinching look at what it means to have faith, be deeply religious, and put trust in a higher power, and what that can mean for people capable of doing so.
Father Paul and Riley's theological arguments form some of the best parts of the series dialogue as they passionately defend both sides of the coin.
Writing about the series launching, Flanagan said: “There is darkness at work on Crockett Island. Some of it is supernatural, but the scariest is born of human nature."
His monsters hiding in dark corners might make you jumpy, but as he says, the real terror hides in the worst parts of the islanders themselves.
Be warned, if lockdown had you dreaming of life in the wide open spaces of remote countryside villages, Midnight Mass will pretty quickly turn that dream into a nightmare.
Watch: Get a first look at creeping horror series Midnight Mass