The strength of Midnight Mass, a seven-episode limited horror series on Netflix, is the questions the show attempts to answer regarding God, faith, and how to cope with loss and disappointment. There are some poignant faith questions that are asked, and the show deals with them in ways that are more nuanced and intelligent than what you’d find being preached from many a pulpit. The weakness of the show is that it attempts to combine a heavy-handed religious commentary along with three (!) sub-genres of horror: supernatural fiction, a slow-burn psychological thriller, and a gruesomely over-the-top vampire slasher.
Midnight Mass takes place in dwindling Crockett Island, a fictional island off the coast of the American mainland with its declining population in the dozens. Crockett offers the viewer a variety of characters whose own storylines are compelling, but the show centers around two people, the newly assigned priest, Father Paul Hill (Hamish Linklater), and Riley Flynn, the prodigal son who’s returned to Crockett to seek redemption for his past sins (Zach Gilford of Friday Night Lights).
In one scene, Father Paul speaks to Riley about a young boy who once came to him, asking him to say a prayer for his dying pet mouse. The priest says a prayer, takes the mouse, and tells the child to be on his way. Three days later the priest presents the mouse to the boy and in the boy’s opinion, the mouse is completely healed. Of course, as Father Paul tells Riley, “It took me three days to find another mouse that looked just like it.”
But he reasons, “(The boy) is amazed. His belief is confirmed. He believes! This moment, it sustained for almost a decade … off of that one little mouse. What it gave this boy, you think that wasn’t an act of God?”
In the end, the series eventually suffers from a crisis of identity; a tale of two halves. The transition in trajectory from the first half of the series to the second is abrupt and unexpected; and not in the good plot-twist sort of way. It’s almost as if the show’s writers went on strike and the producers hired a new set of writers to complete the series.
Midnight Mass initially offers its viewers a sobering look into religious fanaticism and utilizes vampires as a clever metaphor for the church’s exploitation of the public. It would have been interesting had the show taken the time to play out these intrigues with its already-established pace and deliberation. Instead, things devolve in the second half, and all thoughtful Christian content is lost. (Netflix)