“Midnight Mass” brings horror and terror to Netflix

By James Stein Oct29,2021

This article contains spoilers for Netflix’s “Midnight Mass”.

What is the difference between terror and horror? Terror is often used to describe the sickening feeling of your stomach twisting, as you sense something truly awful is about to happen while horror is the feeling after something has happened– the shock and revulsion at looking at what has happened. Episodes one through four of the Netflix original series “Midnight Mass” are terrifying. Episode five and onwards, are horrifying.

For four episodes of the series the audience is left gripping the edge of their seats as they are trying their hardest to puzzle together the pieces that are left behind them. Episode five is when it finally comes together, and though many probably figured out what was going on beforehand, having the characters grapple themselves with what is happening to them is what makes it horrifying. Witnessing characters you have grown close to over the course of the episodes make hard choices and have to deal with the ramifications of these choices is the horrifying aspect of it, not the giant flying vampire that serves its own blood as communion (although yeah that is also definitely horrifying). 

As an avid watcher of scary movies I believe that the greatest monster creation a movie can do is by never showing the monster. Whatever grotesque thing the effects team can make is no match for human imagination. Until “Midnight Mass”. 

The subtleties is what truly makes the ‘vampire’ in the show. Once a person has been turned, their eyes turn to an almost cat-like yellow glowing in the dark, reminiscent of Flanagan’s other work “Oculus”, in which the possessed had reflective mirror eyes. Then and today, those eyes unnerve me. 

In episode two, the audience is transported into the vampire’s point of view as it flies through the small island at night. A change of pace from the usual use of handheld cameras Flanagan employs for most of the series when following the characters. 

By this drastic change in filming techniques it emphasizes the differences between the vampire and the humans. It is a great way to insert the audience into the mudanity and imperfect humans versus the all powerful monstrosity that is able to see the island from an entirely different perspective than we usually see.

The most jarring and critiqued aspect of the show is the amount of heavy monologues Flanagan has throughout the show, but I found these refreshing. Most notably given to characters Riley Flynn, played by Zach Gilford, and Erin Greene, played by Kate Siegel. The two characters sit on a couch asking each other what they believe specifically only happens to themself when they die. 

Riley’s monologue is something I think many people who were born into religion and later see themselves as atheists can really relate to. Yes, there is a finality to death and the sadness in it, but also Riley finds joy in the fact that he does still live. Just not in an afterlife sort of way but in a feeding new life sort of way. 

Erin doesn’t speak on what she believes happens to her when she dies until the last episode of the show. In a way she rewrites the saying in Christianity that is used most commonly on Ash Wednesday and at funerals, ashes to ashes, dust to dust. But instead Erin relates this dust to stardust, that she is stardust and to that she will return. 

Many critics say it felt unnatural and that it was too dense. I think we as an audience have become desensitized to good writing. Marvel movies have gotten us used to funny one liners rather than intense, emotional discussion that audience attention spans aren’t used to holding onto a scene that simple. It’s a sad reality of the average watcher and I’m grateful for Flanagan for bringing us back to great writing. And I’m sure the acting majors are excited to have some more modern monologues at their disposal. 

“Midnight Mass” is a wholly new show compared to Flannagan’s last two productions, but I have a feeling this is what we should be expecting from the writer going forward. If this is what we are to expect from Flannagan and writers everywhere going forward, we’re in good hands.


5/5 stars

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