The third song of the 1981 album The Evil One by the late Roky Erickson, “If You Have Ghosts”, does a pretty accurate description of the act of believing and it seemed a convenient title for this article since Mike Flanagan’s Midnight Mass does a wonderful job in so many levels, including talking about religion and belief systems in a detailed way and as a viewer, we can hardly notice that we are genuinely thinking and arguing about the act of believing (even though every episode title is taken from various chapters of the Bible). As a side note, the Erickson song is also covered by the Swedish metal band Ghost, from which you will hear (literally if you click on any chapter below) a lot during this read. There are no direct spoilers here but we recommend not to read this before watching the series, to be on the safe side.
Just like Mike Flanagan’s previous works on Netflix (The Haunting of Hill House & The Haunting of Bly Manor), Midnight Mass is a delight (and fright) to watch. It’s a seven-episode horror series but from the point of cinematography, acting and exquisite writing, it’s more like a cinematic masterpiece in seven parts. The writing and dialogues merit especially high praise because on a subject this delicate, one has to be extremely careful not to offend anyone and I personally think that a viewer must really force themselves to be offended by anything said or done in the series. And this is a very hard task beautifully accomplished by the writers Mike Flanagan, Joyce Sherri, Teresa Sutherland and James Flanagan.
The Latin phrase per aspera ad astra (through hardships to the stars) can describe, to some extent, the main purpose of life for all the church going islanders but the general atmosphere of Midnight Mass doesn’t help us to believe that it will be the case. Practicing religious beliefs in a remote island does in a way create a micro universe representing humanity’s struggle against the fact that, in a Kierkegaardian sense, man is thrown to the world without being given the necessary tools nor knowledge to survive. And when miracles begin to happen in this isolated island, every believer feels validated, they begin to think that “all the hardships” they’re putting up with are not in vain, they begin to believe that they’ll get a reward sooner than anticipated (needless to say, they should anticipate nothing, even in normal circumstances). And at this point, at this thought, everything starts to fall to pieces. Just like what Gabriel (Tilda Swinton) told Constantine (Keanu Reeves); knowing and believing are two different things; with validation, along comes a certain disruption in one’s belief. This kind of validation just leads to a mere fanaticism.
The song “Ritual” from Ghost begins with the line “Tonight we’re summoned for a divine cause”, just like the island’s community who starts to gather in the witching hour, instead of broad daylight every Sunday. The community suspects nothing, because they’re nice people with only good intentions, and this is another dangerous point connecting the story to the belly of the beast; to the soft belly of any belief system, so to speak: They naively believe what they’re told and shown, rightfully so because it’s Father Paul (the wonderful Hamish Linklater), their spiritual guide who tells and shows them wonders. The series is very good at portraying a vast variety of characters as well as different, possible reactions they may express in a situation such as this one.
For Midnight Mass, the notion of “diversity” is very strong and has many layers. Saying that the series values diversity with a cast portraying people from different countries, religions and sexual preferences is very important, but even that is an understatement, because the series is not judgmental even towards the notion of “Angel”, rather they’re kicked out from Heavens or not (I’ll stop there to avoid spoilers). So these lyrics to the song See The Light; “But of all the demons I’ve known, none could compare to you” might as well be a casual line from Midnight Mass, the series creates such a caring, understanding environment. Until all hell breaks loose, of course.
Cirice – The Cast
As Flanagan regulars, Kate Siegel (the anchor of the narrative), Henry Thomas, Annabeth Gish and Rahul Kohli (we can listen to him recite Shakespeare all day) are just great, it’s pure joy to watch their wonderful performances. But we have to talk about some new faces of course such as Hamish Linklater, Zach Gilford and especially Samantha Sloyan. We’ll get to that “especially” part in a while. Hamish Linklater portrays the beloved Father Paul, who helps everyone with a gentle heart. Linklater’s charismatic look merges with his kindness and makes him the perfect candidate for this role, since Father Paul greets this “sanctity” who hit him like a train on a track with great perseverance and good will. A lot of wishful thinking is indeed involved.
Zach Gilford is, along with Kate Siegel, portrays one of the two characters who are very close to what us the viewers are experiencing. At the beginning they’re just as defenseless as we are against the atrocities that are about to happen in the island. Gilford plays Riley Flynn, who has done his time in prison (because of an incident that involves driving under the influence) and came back to his parents who have trouble adapting to this new union. Gilford shines in this role with minimalistic acting and of course by maintaining the consistency of his character in every scene with such ease.
And along comes the spectacular Samantha Sloyan! First things first, Bev Keane is a key character that is written and/or created with such masterfulness. But to be able to portray Bev Keane with such grace and conviction is on a whole nother level. Bev Keane can be very mean, malefic and of course fanatic, and watching Sloyan bring a variety of extreme emotions to life is just mesmerizing. We hear on social media from Kate Siegel and Mike Flanagan that Samantha Sloyan is one of the nicest people in the world, another reason to praise her performance in portraying the complete opposite of herself. We send her much love in the name of all the viewers here in Turkey.
“Those who can make you believe in absurdities, can make you commit atrocities”. We can talk about Voltaire’s famous saying extracted from his essay “Questions on Miracles” (1765) but we will only be stating the obvious, that’s why we leave the talking to the cinematic beauty that is Midnight Mass, kudos to all the cast and crew, especially Mike Flanagan, we are simply in awe. As Dial M for Movie, we wanted to write a review as soon as we finished watching the series back in October, but Midnight Mass has such a complete, outstanding and crystal clear narrative that we had trouble expressing our own feelings and ideas, a favorable writer’s block that I personally never experienced before. So I was literally speechless, I still am. We highly recommend Midnight Mass, stop whatever you’re doing and watch it right away if you haven’t already.