Cast of "Midnight Mass" looking up at the sky

‘The Haunting of Hill House’ Creator Missed the Mark With ‘Midnight Mass’

Fans of Mike Flanagan had high expectations for his new horror show, which left viewers feeling confused, unfulfilled and simply not scared.
October 15, 2021
8 mins read

As Halloween approaches, Netflix is dropping horror content all month, though not all of these new additions are worth the watch. “Midnight Mass” is one that should be skipped, seeing as it lacks in plot, interesting characters and fear factor. This came as a surprise to those that were fans of Mike Flanagan’s previous works: “The Haunting of Hill House” and “The Haunting of Bly Manor.” “The Haunting of Hill House” was made first and is generally accepted as the best of this trio, due to its perfect combination of entertainment and terror. “The Haunting of Bly Manor” was not as effective, but still provided a semi-scary story; “Midnight Mass,” on the other hand, missed the mark completely.

Riley Flynn, played by Zach Gilford, is an incredibly boring main character. Despite a drunk driving incident sending him to prison for four years, there are no other explicit details of his past that hold the audience’s interest. He moves back to his childhood home in Crockett Island, which is occupied by an extremely religious community. Riley spends most of his days with his childhood friend Erin Greene, who is played by Kate Siegel. Riley and Erin spend nearly all of their time talking. Despite one interesting conversation about death, most of their discussions are boring and do not progress the plot in any way.

Likewise, Riley expresses minimal emotion to Erin, his family, and everyone else in the show. It is difficult to root for a main character that shows no personality. Beyond Riley, there are barely any likable characters in “Midnight Mass” — nearly every single person is preachy and unkind. Most of the dialogue consists of depressing monologues that go on for several minutes. There are many scenes that take place at church, in which the monsignor will preach for much longer than the audience needs to see. Most of these sermons barely relate to the plot, and should take up half of the screen time that they do.

For a large portion of “Midnight Mass,” the audience has no idea what they are meant to be scared by. Riley is haunted by the image of the young girl he killed with glass in her face. While this is unsettling, it is irrelevant to the story and does not instill fear in the viewer.

In general, the tone of the show is eerie, as it is set on an extremely isolated island, but there is no clear threat for multiple episodes. The first unnatural event that is meant to disturb the audience is a big storm that leaves the corpses of cats on the shore. This is more confusing than scary, especially because the answer as to why this occurred is never given.

As “Midnight Mass” continues, it is slowly revealed that the “monster” of the show is an angel. This creature essentially turns people into vampires through a bite to the neck; the monsignor, too, suffers this blood-sucking fate. This man goes by Father Paul, played by Hamish Linklater. It becomes muddled as to whether the audience is meant to root for the monsignor or fear him.

Furthermore, the show does not have many clear characters or plot points that make the viewers feel any specific emotion. Leaving the option of interpretation for the audience can be an effective and interesting tactic at times. However, people want to have a general idea of what reaction a show is attempting to provoke, and it becomes frustrating that “Midnight Mass” rarely offers this feeling of clarity. Obviously, the main intention of the creators is to instill fear, but unfortunately, this goal was not met with success. There are parts of the show that leave the audience unsettled, but there is a huge lack of objectively scary material. There is not a single scene of terror that would remain in the mind of a viewer after turning off the show, as well as nothing to genuinely fear.

Once the source of evil in the show is finally revealed, “Midnight Mass” only becomes even more puzzling, because the logistics of these evil sources do not make sense. The qualities of the people that are bitten by the angel vary in an inconsistent manner. After Father Paul is bitten, he carries on with life as a younger version of himself. Trouble only arises when he accidentally drinks poison and comes back to life. After this, he cannot step into the sun without being burned. He can only hold mass at night, but for some reason that goes unquestioned by the members of his community.

When Riley is bitten by the angel, immediately, he becomes unable to go outside in the sun without burning to death. It is incredibly unclear what causes someone to actually die, as opposed to dying and being resurrected as a vampire. Furthermore, the monsignor puts blood into the wine at church, but the results of this are not explicitly stated. It appears that it is causing miracles in the health of certain community members, but the pattern is untraceable. Because of this, the audience is left more confused than scared.

However, Flanagan will have the chance to redeem himself with the upcoming show “The Midnight Club.” Yet again, this show will be unrelated to its predecessors. The cast is yet to be revealed, but most likely, there will be some familiar faces from his previous works. Fans are hoping to see Flanagan create a show that is more similar to “The Haunting of Hill House” than either of his other shows.

Flanagan has the ability to evoke genuine fear in his audience. Hopefully, he uses the skills that he clearly has to prove that he is still capable of creating great horror content. If he repeats the same mistakes he made in “Midnight Mass,” it will become harder to justify investing time in watching his creations.

Trinity Crompton, Molloy College

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Trinity Crompton

Molloy College

Trinity is a senior at Molloy College majoring in writing and minoring in journalism. She hopes to pursue a career in fashion journalism. She loves dachshunds, platform shoes and Stephen King novels.

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