As a priest, I’m always curious about shows featuring religious folk. That’s how I fell down the rabbit hole of Midnight Mass, a new horror/drama series on Netflix created and directed by Mike Flanagan, a former altar boy.
The 7 part limited series released in September, 2021 introduces us to Riley Flynn. Riley is returning to his familial home after spending four years in prison. With Riley, we enter the fishing community of Crockett Island. Riley’s return coincides with the arrival of a strange new priest, who has replaced the old monsignor at St. Patrick’s. It is these two arrivals that drive the series to its apocalyptic end.
Midnight Mass checks all the boxes for a horror film. The long shadow of evil stretches from the opening scenes into the intimate stories of the characters. The characters are surrounded by hints of violence and evil while still holding space for the good and mundane. By the time evil appears at the altar of St. Patrick’s, we are well prepared. Watching blood pour into a chalice is more sinister and sacred than most of us want to admit.
If you are an easily offended Christian, you’ll want to take a pass on this series. But if you are a person of faith willing to watch a a slow-burn horror film, Midnight Mass will meet your expectations for the genre and leave you with food for thought.
The series doesn’t demonize or disgrace people. The two Muslims and many Christians on Crockett Island are portrayed with honesty and respect. They are allowed to catastrophically fail and still find grace. In the extremity of their choices and the gruesomeness of their behaviors, we find a timeless morality tale.
As only this genre can do, suffering and death are pervasive in the plot. If the characters aren’t talking about it (and they do, a lot), they’re full gushing in it. But the true issue is how each one responds when evil emerges in the very places they call good. Like I said, a timeless morality tale. In the blurry goodness of hymn singing and candles, sermons and stories, the parishioners at St. Patrick’s become victims of sedated faith. The congregation’s willingness to hide all the warning signs in altar cloth and bible verses leaves them unprepared for the horror spawned among them.
Thank God, the source of the horror in this series is completely fantastical. But we have only to look around to see how abusive leaders and their misuse of their “sheeple” can be deadly. Faithful to the Christian tradition, Midnight Mass reminds us: death is not the last word, nor the worst outcome. It’s our choices that hold the greatest terror.