Midnight Mass, just another horror series?: A Review

By Ameerah Angelina

Minor spoilers ahead! Do proceed with caution. 

“Midnight Mass”, a Netflix limited series directed by Mike Flanagan, is more than just a horror series. There are no ghosts or endless jump-scares full of suspense that keep you on the edge of your seat. Instead, you’ll be sitting through seven episodes that start off rather slowly as you are gradually introduced to the different characters of the show.

With the long thought-provoking dialogues and monologues, you’ll be left with a bloodcurdling experience in the final three episodes as you watch the fate of the characters you’ve grown attached to unfold in horrifying ways. 

This mini-series follows the protagonist, Riley Flynn (Zach Gilford) who returns to the small, decaying Crockett Island after his release from prison in which he was sentenced to four years for killing a young girl while driving drunk. Along with Riley’s return, we also meet the new priest, Father Paul (Hamish Linklater), and soon after, the town folks start seeing and experiencing miracles that cannot be scientifically explained happening to the regular churchgoers. In other words, the island experiences a “religious revival”, as said by the character of Beverly Keane (Samantha Sloyan), with the mysterious new priest, but things are not really what they seem to be.  

Although the show is centered around the religion of Christianity, it dabbles with several major themes that can be relatable and valuable to people of all religions, not just Christians. 

Religious Overzealousness

In this majorly Catholic island, Father Paul and Bev are the two main characters that hold great authority and power as the two people with the highest positions in the Church, and they are supposedly the most devoted Christians. While being devoted to religion is supposedly a good thing, this became their downfall as their so-called “devotion” to their faith made them believe that they are better than those who are less faithful and this blinded them from what is truly right and wrong. 

Due to this blindness, they commit major sins and crimes such as murders and justify it to be “God’s will” as they are the “chosen ones”. Eventually, using religion and misinterpreting religious scriptures to their advantage, they created a cult on the island under the guise of Catholic Christianity and were determined to spread their so-called “blessings” to the rest of the world, which led to the death of too many innocent people. 

In its essence, “Midnight Mass” warns against religious extremists and people in authority who use their religion to fulfil their own personal agendas; the wolves in sheep clothing who pose an imminent threat to society with dire, horrific consequences to their misguided actions in the name of religion. And while an actual terrifying creature does exist in this series, the true villains are still the humans which is what makes this series all the more chilling as religious fanatics or extremists do exist in real life. 

Furthermore, this kind of religious extremism exists in all religions, including Islam. The series shows us how harmful religion can be when it is taken out of context and to extremes. We have seen many examples of misguided faith in Malaysia alone, and this is why we need to be careful and increase our knowledge of our own faith by referring to the trusted ulama.

Religion, itself, is not inherently bad, but there are “believers” who will take things to the extremes, misinterpreting scriptures and religions to fit their own personal agenda, and this often brings negative consequences to them as well as others. It also warns us against blindly following others simply because of their authority as people in power can very easily abuse their power and use it to their own advantage, regardless of its effects on others. 

Addiction 

Addiction is another strong theme in this series. Riley, who used to be an alcoholic, is forced into a state of self-reckoning after being haunted by the mangled ghost of the girl he killed in a drunk-driving accident. In addition to this, another townie, Joe Collie (Robert Longstreet) also suffers from alcohol addiction after paralysing the mayor’s daughter years ago and is now known as the town-drunk who drinks his life away until he eventually gets the support he needs to overcome this. 

While the series mainly focuses on the addiction to substances, it is also applicable to other types of addictions like smoking, taking drugs, or being addicted to the Internet or a certain unhealthy lifestyle. This show has portrayed how addiction can be detrimental to one’s well-being as well as to others, and this serves as a reminder to us to be careful of falling victim.

In addition, the show also signifies the importance of having proper support from other people in the process of recovery. Today’s society often looks down on people who are struggling with addiction, and being shunned by society has the adverse effect of worsening their condition as they feel as if their addiction is the only thing they can rely on. Many seem to forget that addiction is also considered a mental illness, and like every other illness, support from others, especially loved ones, is essential to motivate and help patients recover.  

Guilt and Forgiveness

Lastly, the underlying theme of forgiveness makes up a large part of this series as we see many of the major characters struggle with guilt and have trouble not only forgiving others but also forgiving themselves. Guilt and grudges are something that everyone has experienced in their lives, and forgiveness is never easy. Even so, the show has shown that holding on to grudges and guilt can only make people suffer more as these emotions become baggage that weighs on their chest.

Among the major characters that strongly portray this theme is Joe, the town drunk. He spirals into an alcoholic lifestyle due to the guilt he feels for paralysing the mayor’s daughter, Leeza (Annarah Cymone). When Leeza decides to meet Joe and forgive him for what he did to her, it is not because she feels bad for him, but because she wants to let go of her hatred and move on. While Joe has been forgiven by Leeza, he still struggles to forgive himself for what he did, which serves as an obstacle to his recovery from alcohol addiction. 

From these few characters, we see that seeking forgiveness and being forgiving is no easy feat. However, holding on to grudges and guilt can also lead to one’s downfall as it prevents one from being truly happy and at peace. This is something the show teaches that is extremely relatable to Muslims as well because Islam highly encourages us to always seek forgiveness, either from Allah SWT or from other living beings, and forgive others. 

In short, this show carries a lot of relatable themes and conveys important values that are beneficial to many people, regardless of their religion and beliefs. This series is in no sense nightmare-inducing but it will leave you with various lessons to be learnt, even as Muslims.

“Midnight Mass” isn’t one that is meant to spook or shock you but to move you; to spark something deeper inside you than an involuntary scream. Due to this, it is not a show that’s for everyone but I’d say it’s definitely one worth watching as it conveys important messages that viewers of all religions can learn from despite its majorly Christian characters.***

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