Have you ever wanted to see a two hour vampire movie stretched out to a seven hour miniseries? Do you like endless monologues? Do you want a horror show without any real scary elements? Then Midnight Mass is the show for you.
A few years ago the great horror director Mike Flanagan created double hits for Netflix in the Haunting series. Both Hill House and Bly Manor were creepy and frightening series that I personally loved. I had hoped to review Flanagan’s latest horror series episode by episode like I had done in the past. The problem was after two episodes I quit the series. I found it tedious.
I decided to give it another chance after all Mike Flanagan had never let me down before. I made it through another couple episodes before quitting again. I was bored by the monotony of character having revelations, giving monologues about those revelations then having more revelations.
Finally I buckled down and hit the last few episodes. Did the finale change my opinion? Not entirely.
To begin, this series is set in a fictional fishing village on a remote island. The simplest way to describe the story is Stephen King’s book Salem’s Lot except on an island and with a lot of Catholicism.
Riley Flynn, played by Zach Gilford, is a former altar boy returning to his hometown after a stint in prison following a drunk driving accident that left a girl dead. He finds the island has changed in his absence. The towns population is dwindling. His former flame wild child Erin, played by the wonderful Kate Siegel, is now pregnant and devotedly religious. The biggest change though is a new priest who comes to the Catholic parish. He’s played by Hamish Linklater, and he’s bringing more than a renewed fervor for the church.
Why did I dislike this show so much? It has a solid premise. It has an incredible cast. Every performer is giving A+ work. They are great across the board. Flanagan’s director is solid. He frames shots well. He uses lighting in a very clever and atmospheric way. Flanagan the writer however created seven very boring scripts.
Flanagan is known for writing monologues. They’re usually very good monologues. Here he forgot the cardinal rule of show don’t tell. He never shows us anything in this series. He just has a character sit down and tell us everything about what happened, who was involved, and how it affected them. So little happens in the first three episodes that I fell asleep and gave up on the show. Instead people talk about what happened ad nauseam.
He has also buried his conflicts. Riley is living with his parents after his jail time. His father is upset, but this never culminates in conflict or even simmering tension. It mostly just involves averted glances and monologues about fishing.
The central supernatural element is kept hidden until four episodes in. There are hints and jump scares throughout, but these don’t create real intrigue or suspense. It just left me waiting for something interesting to happen.
The only scenes that have real dramatic spark are between Riley and the father. Riley lost his faith in prison, and the father challenges him to find faith again. These have some good philosophy and conflict, but they aren’t enough to sustain five hours of tv.
I’m complaining a lot about the monologues, but some of them are very good. Flanagan has good ideas buried underneath all the words. What Flanagan needed was an editor to go through his scripts and cut out every other word.
I’ll give an example. Erin tells the local doctor that she believes vampires have infested their town. After she said it Erin admits how crazy she must sound. The doctor then monologues about a scientist who ran a hospital. Babies were dying. He studied it and found that doctors should maybe wash their hands before deliveries. It was a radical idea for the time. His insistence on the idea landed him in an asylum. Years later he was proven right. So no the Doctor doesn’t think Erin is crazy. A five minute speech culminated in a one word response. The story the doctor tells is interesting, but all the doctor had to say was no, and we could have saved a huge chunk of the series runtime. One monologue like that is interesting. Ten of those in every episode is boring and inefficient story telling.
He has some interesting ideas about religion and how religion can be used toward evil ends. He has some genuinely scary ideas in the final two episodes about the madness of crowds and groups. Religious zealotry is the real villain in this story. But he didn’t need seven hours to get that point across.
I’m honestly a little angry at this show. I’m angry because I spent seven hours watching this show when I should have spent two. I’m angry because there wasn’t anything scary about it. I was never on the edge of my seat. I never jumped. I never had a lingering if dread or suspense. I was bored. And the cardinal sin of any movie if show is dullness.
It’s not my cup of tea. D