Oh, hi. Sorry, I wasn’t ignoring you, I’m just a little distracted today. Welcome to my horror corner. I know you expected it to be dark, but I thought looking at our subject in the cold, brilliant sunlight was a more appropriate choice. You see, there’s a gremlin camped in my headspace today, someone who thrives on dragging the broken bits of ourselves out for all to see, often tragically, painfully, and unavoidably. If you guessed Mike Flanagan, you’re absolutely correct. Come, we’ve Midnight Mass to attend.
CONTENT WARNING: I’ll be giving you this warning since Netflix won’t (a gross oversight that was honestly as shocking as the series itself). The first two episodes feature a lot of animal and pet death, and it can be gruesome. As with most of Flanagan’s content, “Midnight Mass” deals heavily in the traumas of alcoholism and grief, and you get an extra-heavy dose of religious trauma. There will also be spoilers from here out, so beware.
I’ve been a fan of Mike Flanagan’s writing and directing for several years now, though “The Haunting of Hill House” and “The Haunting of Bly Manor” are, to me, crown jewels in his collection. Especially Bly Manor, where the horror is slow-burning, slow-revealing, and emotionally devastating. Flanagan reminds us that horror is so often tragic, made all the moreso when it cannot be avoided. It’s the subtle revelation of inescapable cosmic horror, a horror that exists despite and in spite of us, that hits me the hardest (and the best). There’s an artful tying of threads and conclusion of story arcs running in parallel to each other that makes each character seem so human and understandable, regardless of how much we might hate them (looking at you, Peter Quint).
“Midnight Mass” is no different in that regard. Many of the themes are the same across all three series. Even the most obnoxious, objectively awful character (Bev, it’s Bev) is more complicated than their initial characterization would have you believe. The series unyieldingly and brutally demands an emotional toll from its viewers. However, if you’re expecting a repeat of Hill House and Bly Manor, you’re in for a harsher ride. Aside from having come away from the series with far fewer tears than when I went in, I came away with one word louder than all the rest: perversion.
And I don’t mean that in the sexual sense. “Midnight Mass” corrupts: it twists ideas around themselves to horrifying effect. The most obvious example is how religion is used to burrow into the townsfolk’s minds and justify even the most heinous acts of desecration; it’s ok that we’ve become monsters and commit monstrous acts against each other, because it’s for God. The purity of faith is perverted, first by Monsignor Pruitt’s gross misinterpretation of his “Angel,” then in the message of resurrection and redemption to the islanders who are so desperate for someone to revitalize their community, and finally by Bev’s devastating Revelations that ultimately cost them everything. Everything.
The more insidious perversion, in my mind, is what happens with Riley. This may also be due, in part, to my own experiences with alcoholics and addiction recovery. I felt real revulsion watching them discuss managing the monster within as it became less about rehabilitating the alcoholic and more about controlling and excusing an actual monster. It was worse than simple mental gymnastics; it was a perversion of healing intended to harm. And it’s part of why I was so impacted by Riley’s fate, even knowing where it was most likely going to go ahead of time. I knew that’s where we were headed, and yet I could do nothing to stop it, only able to sit with my sobs as the sun rose with Erin screaming as the credits rolled. It was grotesque. And brilliant.
If you plan to attend “Midnight Mass,” be ready to give yourself over to an Angel of death and destruction that will leave you with opinions. You’re not going to like a lot of them. I know I didn’t. And that’s ok. You’re always welcome to come join me in my horror corner to discuss them.