The intersection of horror and religion is rediscovered by Mike Flanagan in his miniseries, “Midnight Mass,” available now on Netflix.
The creative mind behind a new renaissance of horror began in 2013 when his film “Oculus” hit critical success. Flanagan shows his chops once again, masterfully weaving horror themes into mundane reality. Flanagan mentioned this was a project he had been working on for years, and regardless of that quote, it’s obvious in every shot of the show that passion was put into this project.
Cut and dry: it’s seven episodes worth watching. If the plot is not compelling enough, the cinematography and direction, and especially the acting, will make it worthwhile.
The series takes place on a desolate coastal island, leaving the viewer with a sense of isolation. With a limited population, the main cast of characters become known, all with intricately woven storylines and have purpose in the main plot.
The performance by Hamish Linklater as the priest exceeds any expectation of a lesser known actor. Linklater has pages of dialogue, with multiple one-takes of monologuing that some may find monotonous. Yet, what is Catholic mass if not monologues persevering.
He is our omniscient guide from beginning to end, always being the one to reveal the truths to the audience. We begin to follow his narration as blindly as his followers at the church do.
The dangers of blind faith is exemplified by Bev, played by Samantha Sloyan. Conversations between characters of varying faiths are twisted by her agenda. She manipulates genuine concern about her behavior into being an attack on her faith, uniting those of similar faith onto her side, completely ignoring the issues that caused the discussion in the first place.
Power to manipulate faith can be dangerous when placed into the hands of those willing to extort it. Those who follow their faith blindly open themselves to this manipulation, and we see terrible things being done justified in the name of faith.
As much as “Midnight Mass” is a critique of religious extremism, it also opens a door into the conversation of religious trauma. The story will be internalized differently by viewers with religious background and those without. Those who grew up in a religious environment may not have a complicated relationship with it. Many go on fulfilled by their religious upbringing. The other side to the compassionate can be epitomized by Christianity willfully ignoring the violence it perpetuates. This has been seen with the scandal of hundreds of Catholic priests assaulting children, overlooked for years in an attempt to uphold an image.
With any religion, crimes can be contorted to fit its messaging and faith, and excuse guilt. It is seen with extremists believing they are serving a higher power by murdering those who contradict those beliefs. It is seen in mass suicides where believers blindly followed someone who believed it was God’s will. There is a problem of nefarious nature behind unchecked religious institutions.
The line between divinity and monstrosity is nonexistent. How you separate the two is a matter of what you choose to put your faith in and how far you are willing to stretch belief to accept the things in front of you are good, even if they’re ugly. The phrase, “seeing is believing,” doesn’t hold up in “Midnight Mass.” When reality is right before their eyes, faith conflicts with truly believing what they see.