We have a new horror mini series on Netflix from the trusted hands of Mike Flanagan. The director of The Haunting On Hill House (2018) and The Haunting Of Bly Manor (2020) is now at the helm of his own original story which is surely going to delight and scare audiences.
Midnight Mass is a seven episode tale that takes place on a remote island set in Maine. The small town of less than 150 people is set in its ways but is thrown for a loop when Riley Flynn (Zach Gilford) returns to town, followed shortly by a new paster, Father Paul (Hamish Linklater). Things begin to change in the small community and soon the faithful and religious foundations everyone holds true begin to crack.
Episode One, entitled Book I: Genesis, sets the scene for the story. The characters are introduced and isolated setting is established. Let’s dive in.
The show starts off with an immediate slap in the face of religious symbolism. A religious fish is the bumper sticker of a young Riley Flynn’s car, which is smashed into another vehicle. Flynn is sitting on the side of the road with his slurred speech stumbling off his lips while he is staring at a woman he has killed while driving under the influence.
Immediately we are put on our heels as the audience because this central figure, presumably the man conduit of the story, is flawed. Riley is praying, but an EMT makes sure to ask him why it is that God spares the drunks and kills the innocent. Such a slap in the face of his believes shakes Riley, which plays immediate impact as the first episode progresses.
Just from the get-go of the episode, Midnight Mass is playing with religion and its symbols. We also have Flanagan playing with catholic choir songs, using cheery songs in downtrodden moments and the pure eeriness of singers just chanting endlessly.
The importance of religion is accented once Riley returns home to his remote island off the coast of Maine. The obviously scarred now ex-convict reunites with his mom, who is far to eager to see him, and finally sees his disapproving father and rebellious younger brother at family dinner. The first disagreement as a family is when Riley says he doesn’t want to go to church and his family does not agree.
Before delving too much into the plot of the first episode (which some can argue I have done already), the directing ability within the episode and framing of certain shot is craftily done. There are numerous shots of a seemingly endless landscape, which are classics homages to pictures painted from Bible scripture and those that would be seen in churches. Flanagan may be attempting to paint this isolated land as an Eden, away from the filth that those across the shore bring.
However, there is a storm coming. It may be a little on the nose to those who look for these things, but it is not a coincidence that once Father Paul arrives, a giant storm arrives on the island as well. It is a rather upfront foreboding of the danger to come.
Father Paul is on the island because Monsignor Pruitt, the original pastor on the island, fell ill on his excursion to the holy land. This tale that Father Paul is telling seems plausible with Pruitt being 80 years old, but there are some other details that need to be taken into account. People, including Riley, have claimed to see Pruitt walking the beach. Also, Father Paul arrived on the island carrying a trunk…that would be big enough to keep a body.
The other main mystery, almost definitely intertwined with Monsignour’s disappearance, is what’s happening in the Uppards. Warren Flynn and his friends travelled to the Uppards to smoke some weed and gave us some lovely exposition on the area. The Uppards has a multitude of dead bodies buried that sometimes wash up onto the shower of the main community. Now invading the outcast land are stray cats that somehow got there from the mainland, but for those who have seen the end of episode one know those cats are in a bit of trouble.
There was a twig snapping when Warren was smoking the sweet grass of Mary Jane with his friends and when he shown the flashlight in the weeds, it appeared like a mass of a man or visage was staring at them. The group of boys played it off as part of an urban legend, but there is something in the tall grass. Get that Netflix movie reference? Get it??
The eeriness of Midnight Mass is coming with the unknown and the unique cast of characters.
We have the overly charismatic Father Paul and the down-in-the-dumps Riley Flynn. Annie Flynn is too loving as a mother and Ed Flynn trying to reconcile with his disappointment (sense a forgiveness redemption scene later) for his sin. A rebellious son pining of an adorable young woman, Leeza (Annarah Cymone). Let’s not forget the Sheriff (Rahul Kohli) who is trying to blend in with a community that struggles to accept him and the creepy ass over-protective church lover in Bev Keane (Samantha Sloyan). Erin Greene (Katie Siegel) is pregnant and happy to be back at home and the only doc in the land is Dr. Sarah Gunning (Annabeth Gish) who is carrying for her ill mother.
Yes, that’s a lot of characters, but Flanagan did a wonderful job easing the audience in. But most importantly, and what Flanagan does best, is making the atmosphere a character itself. If you watch Midnight Mass, then you know it’s being made well by someone who cares because the establishing shots are gorgeous. Each is chosen wisely and purposely.
There are a couple of last things I definitely want to touch on before finally wrapping up this essay. For one, when Keane asks Father Paul why he is wearing the gold garments in mass rather than the typical green for on ordinary Sunday. The new pastor shews the question away, but man it means a lot. The gold colors Paul is donning symbolizes what he feels about himself. Gold in the bible is a color associated with kings and those see themselves as saviors. There is no doubt that Paul feels angelic with whatever evil and power he is weaving.
Finally, a few characters mentioned the idea of seeing a massive bird or dragon like thing amongst the wildlife. That thing, characters of Midnight Mass, is not an animal. That is most likely something religious, whether it be a demon, angel or some sort of holy spirit. Is this ghost-like creature the same of Monsignor Pruitt or are they two separate entities. Are they both evil? Who knows. We can’t wait to find out.
MVP of episode one is the setting of the show itself. Isolated, surrounded by water, and beautifully broken. Mike Flanagan frames it perfectly.
The LVP of episode one is Bev Keane. Yes, her job is to be annoying and pesky, but that does not mean I need to like her. At least not episode one.
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