If you’re wondering how the 29-year-old Essoe plays the mother of Annabeth Gish, you should be warned about some truly dicey old-person make-up that’s kinda necessary for the plot while also a bit misguided. Without spoiling anything, it will be clear pretty early why younger performers like Thomas and Essoe are playing roles beyond their years, but it’s never anything less than distracting. In fact, the effects of “Midnight Mass” are generally inferior to both “Haunting” projects. This show is not heavy on them, so it’s a minor complaint, but when it does explode into horror action, it turns into more of a B-movie production than either “Haunting.” Without spoiling, Flanagan has always worked better with shadows in the dark than when he has to reveal them.
It’s also, believe it or not, talkier than both “Haunting” projects. Riley may be relatively stoic, but people sure do love talking to him, particularly Father Paul and Erin, both of whom get long speeches about religion, God, alcoholism, addiction, the afterlife, and much more. This is a monologue-heavy show, which could throw off people looking for shivers. That’s not Flanagan’s game here—he’s more interested in philosophy and faith than he has been before, directly asking questions about morality and sin. Most of the lengthy conversations are well-scripted, engaging enough in their dialogue, but they also drain a lot of the momentum from the piece, especially after a major revelation mid-season then leads to a couple of episodes of intense discussion when viewers are going to be looking for the bloody stuff.
What is the opposite of a miracle? Why do some of the faithful get blessings in their life while others face only torment? These are deep, complex themes for a Netflix Original series, and it’s a credit to their deal with Flanagan that something this complex exists. And yet I come back to that King comparison. Even though I’m a huge fan, I can admit that his themes and concepts sometimes overwhelm his plotting. He’s prone to tangents that don’t serve the greater purpose and has a habit of underlining his ideas instead of trusting readers to unpack them. And yet he’s still such a consistently entertaining craftsman (strongly recommend his recent Later and Billy Summers, two of his better late-career offerings, by the way) that fans can easily forgive his tendency for abundance and overcooking. Perhaps the greatest compliment I can pay Flanagan and “Midnight Mass” is that all of those feelings I’ve had about King’s work over the last four decades consistently hold true for him too. While I can see the flaws in this overheated homily, there’s nothing that’s going to stop me from coming back to the Church of Flanagan the next time that the doors open.
Whole series screened for review.