Photo By: Noah Nickel via Netflix
Midnight Mass is a new horror series released by Netflix just in time for Halloween. Horror as a genre is usually relegated to movies, but Netflix has successfully tackled this genre with television shows in the past; Fear Street, Haunting of Hill House/Bly Manor, and Ratched all applied conventions from the popular film genre to the mini-series format and did so successfully.
Midnight Mass could follow the formula of these other deeply chilling shows, but it does something different instead. The pacing is slow, taking its time establishing the eerie setting of Crockett Island, and the action is largely character driven. The writing and acting are more theatrical than naturalistic with long, intense monologues. The title has a religious overtone and so does the world of the show, with many of the scenes taking place at church or in homes with crucifixes on the wall.
The show has the occasional jump scare, but it is not particularly scary at all, it’s creepy and dimly lit. Strange things occur on Crockett Island; there is a monster, but the people are the real demons. Alcoholism is one of the main ways human monstrosities are manifested. There are two characters who are struggling to overcome their addictions, and there are some characters for whom religious zeal and righteousness is a destructive force.
Hamish Linklater plays the new priest at the Parish, Father Paul, and residents of the island have a hard time accepting him after having had the same priest their whole lives. He comes with his own mysterious past and Linklater’s performance keeps the audience guessing about the character’s intentions.
Rahul Kohli plays the sheriff; the styling of this character is visually striking, his hair and costume make him look as though he stepped out of a video game. It would be easy for the writers to fall into the trap of making a stereotypical sheriff who stepped out of a western. Sheriff Hassan is more complicated than that though. Kohli’s portrayal of the character is grounded and sincere and he immediately wins the heart of the viewer as another outsider in town who is doing his best as a father, sheriff, and human being.
The character Leeza is a breakout role for rising star Annarah Cymone, who gives one of the most outstanding performances in the series at just 21 years old. Unfortunately, both Leeza and Sheriff Hassan don’t get a lot of screen time in the series, as it focuses mostly on Father Paul and other less interesting characters.
Overall, the show is a bit of a miss; the monologues don’t go anywhere, and having archetypal characters deliver them makes the later episodes feel tedious. Combining biblical references with supernatural horror has a lot of potential, but in the end it isn’t fully realized in Midnight Mass.
It could have been a movie; cutting some of the more stilted, forced moments, the hours of monologues that never amount to anything and slow tension-building shots that just reveal the same jump scare repeatedly. So much of the dialogue is repeated exposition for viewers who weren’t paying attention in previous episodes, so by the end of the series it feels like a huge waste of time. If it were bone-chillingly scary, it might make up for the other failings, but it’s not. The separate elements on their own are interesting, but when they come together, they just don’t work.
There are plenty of great scary Halloween movies and TV shows and Midnight Mass will probably be forgotten by this time next year.