Midnight Mass Season 1 Review – A slow-burn horror that misses the mark

Season 1

Episode Guide

Episode 1 -| Review Score – 4/5
Episode 2 -| Review Score – 3.5/5
Episode 3 -| Review Score – 3/5
Episode 4 -| Review Score – 3/5
Episode 5 -| Review Score – 3/5
Episode 6 -| Review Score – 2.5/5
Episode 7 -| Review Score – 2/5

 

Mike Flanagan shot to fame after releasing both Hush and Haunting of Hill House. The latter went on to become a smash hit for Netflix, and it’s undoubtedly one of the most unsettling and unnerving horrors on the platform. Managing to balance genuine scares with a well rounded group of characters is something that instantly struck a chord with a lot of people. And it’s something that Flanagan and his team struggled to follow-up with in Bly Manor, which received tepid reviews to say the least.

Midnight Mass then has been marketed as “from the creator of Haunting of Hill House” and like Bly Manor, is going to receive the same critical treatment from fans hungry for scares. To put it bluntly, Midnight Mass is not scary. There are barely any tense or unnerving segments, instead leaning into bites of gore and more atmospheric snapshots of uneasiness. In fact, I wouldn’t even go so far as to call this a horror.

Sure, there’s some gore and a couple of jump scares but across 7.5 hours, this show struggles to conjure anything beyond mundane mediocrity, sinking into long-winded monologues and narratives about the age-old debate of religion VS science. In that respect, and played out as a religious drama, there is some merit to be had here. But when you chip away at this debate, you come to realize this show only gives the illusion of being deep and thought provoking.

Before we dive into that, the story itself though actually begins in a pretty compelling way and the opening two episodes are by far the best of the season. Here, we center on a man named Riley, who’s arrested for drink driving. Instead of finding his faith behind bars, he turns away from God.

When he’s released and returns to his hometown of Crockett Island, everything has changed. This once bustling community has slowly died, with a few dozen inhabitants remaining. Buildings  are shacked up, the isolation becomes suffocating and the arrival of a new Monsignor at the church is just what’s needed to shake things up.

Before this happens though, the show takes its sweet time to get acquainted to all the different characters on the island. There’s Riley’s family of course, complete with mum Annie and son Warren, along with Riley’s old childhood sweetheart Erin. There’s the resident drunk Joe Collie too, along with Muslim sheriff Hassan. There’s also Bev too, a highly religious and nosy woman.

With inexplicable miracles and something sinister lurking in the shadows, it doesn’t take long before we find out what’s going on. From episode 3 onward, Midnight Mass plays its hand early, showing whatever is out there and meandering along a track that sees the new minister tumble into darkness, while Riley’s story just sort of peters out.

No spoilers here but Midnight Mass has a serious problem when it comes to writing its characters and it’s something that’s not helped by such a haphazard conclusion.

Now, there will be some that go into Midnight Mass and love this. The show certainly has a good amount of atmosphere and the few jump scares are  just enough to keep you reeled in to find out what happens next. It’s just a shame that these moments are so few and far between.

In episode 3 for example, it takes 52 minutes before anything dramatic or suspenseful occurs. This is basically the same message for most of the show’s run-time, and with each chapter clocking in at over 65 minutes, this is going to be one long, laborious slog for those looking for scares.

If that wasn’t bad enough, the dialogue waffles on with long-winded monologues from both major and minor characters alike. While Father Paul and Riley’s sessions make complete sense, it’s a nasty habit that every other character ends up indulging in by season’s end. It feels so unnatural and it only feeds into the slow pace this already adopts. If you were turned away by Bly Manor’s slow pace – well, good luck with this because Bly Manor is rapid by comparison.

And that’s the real kicker here. Many will go into this knowing Flanagan’s history of horror and expect something that matches up to what’s come before. Midnight Mass just doesn’t have that. Instead, this is a religious drama dressed up in horror rags. While that in itself is okay, the way characters are handled and the wild plot holes left unanswered at the end makes for an unsatisfying watch with very little pay-off.

Aesthetically, Midnight Mass looks amazing and some off the imagery really is fantastic. The church services and the candlelit vigils are beautiful and give this a real ethereal feel. The same can be said for the soundtrack too, with numerous choral renditions blending with minor key string segments to excellent effect.

Unfortunately, pretty visuals and a good soundtrack can only go so far. Midnight Mass is a long, slow, laborious slog through a story that never actually does any of its characters justice with a compelling end. It’s not a bad show per-se, but just don’t expect anything scary here because you won’t find it.


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