Stunning performances in Midnight Mass will leave you gasping for breath
Dear God, the horror!
Midnight Mass takes on majoritarianism in the belief system with telling terror: what in the world are we hoping to achieve in the name of divinity, absolution and eternal life?
Mike Flanagan has become the Christopher Nolan of OTT — albeit in a more limited sense. Ever since he shot into the limelight with the multi-dimensional The Haunting of Hill House and The Haunting of Bly Manor — that gave horror a new code of ‘morality’ by reawakening the notion of the original ‘mystery plays’ — he’s taken the genre away from jumpscares, redefining it with nuances that are at once scientific and supernatural, and settling it down into a psychological incubator.
Midnight Mass has been getting an awful lot of traction on social media — perhaps deservedly. Religious majoritarianism in an increasingly polarised, intolerant world seeking shortcuts is not usually the bedrock for a narrative that engages both drop-dead terror and scientific acumen, and yet retains the DNA of a searing human drama full of emotions and vulnerabilities.
Crockett Island, with a population of 127, is at least 30 miles away from the US mainland — on all sides. It’s a silo, where the only link to civilisation is via the morning and evening ferries. Two men arrive almost in conjunction: a man with a past he seeks redemption from, and a charismatic priest who claims he’s come to fill in for the parish’s regular priest who’s recovering in a hospital in the mainland.
Things go into a tailspin thereon with spooky sightings, “mysteries” and “miracles”, as the desolate — literally and otherwise — island “resurrects” and finds itself in the grips of a religious fervour that, paradoxically, paves the way for devastation.
What makes Midnight Mass tick are the absolutely stunning performances by every single character. Rarely have we seen an ensemble cast step up to deliver on command, and keep it going till the end, without the slightest bit of stagger (special shoutout to the brilliant Rahul Kohli who plays Hassan, the Muslim sheriff on an evangelical island). And, as is always the case with Flanagan, the screenplay is utterly sumptuous (again, very Nolan-esque), the setting ominously breathtaking, the background score as taut as a wire… oh, and the soundtrack couldn’t be more perfect (I was probably sold at the opening theme of Neil Diamond’s And The Grass Won’t Pay No Mind).
The other aspect I found intriguing: the old-world installations the seven-part mini-series abounds in. Flanagan makes use of disconnectedness in the age of the Internet. The setting is now, but all gadgets are deliberately kept away, a few making brief — and irrelevant — cameos. No one on Crockett Island Googles information or sends voice notes or takes videos, even though there is an unspoken Wi-Fi code. The few shots of television and music players one gets to see take you to the 60s and 70s, like the place is in some time warp.
At the end of it, however, the seams do get loose — towards the fag end, let me immediately put that across — because the denouement is a different kind of OTT, with Crockett Island turning into a micro of a larger fundamentalist reality playing out externally.
As long as you can take the finale metaphorically, it should be fine I suppose, but, even so, the excesses — which get so excessive that I’m surprised it has a 16+ rating, and not an 18+ one — could have been curtailed.
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