Mike Flanagan’s new Netflix original scares ‘Bly Manor’


Growing up Catholic is a difficult experience to describe.

From the moment you are born, you are told that you are a sinner. In fact, the very purpose of baptism is to rid your child of the original sin you were born with, a consequence of Adam and Eve.

From there, you strive daily to be in the image of Christ, to avoid sin and all that leads to sin. But that’s a lot of pressure for a young person, and no matter if a person stays in the church, that education leaves an indelible mark.

This brand permeates Mike Flanagan’s latest series for Netflix: Midnight Mass, a passion project for the horror filmmaker behind The Haunting of Hill House.

Expectations were high for the series, which will begin on September 24. Flanagan called him his “Favorite project so far”, and star Rahul Kohli spoke about it in equally rhapsodic tones. As a critic fascinated by both Catholicism and Flanagan’s past work, I am happy to add my voice to this choir.

slow cooker

Riley and Father Paul have a heart to heart after Ash Wednesday Mass.Netflix

The series opens as Riley Flynn (Zach Gilford), a former choir waiter in the remote fishing village of Crockett Island, suffers a gruesome tragedy: a car accident for which he can’t help but blame himself. After getting sober and spending years in prison for manslaughter, Riley returns to Crockett Island, where life is exactly as he left it in his close-knit community, which remains centered around St. Patrick’s Catholic Church. .

But Riley isn’t the only newcomer to Crockett Island. Father Paul (Hamish Linklater) arrives to replace longtime priest Monsignor Pruitt, who fell ill during a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. As the series progresses, Paul and Riley struggle to find their place in such an island community, but each finds some form of solace in isolation. At the end of the series, they both deal with their own secrets – and their own “blessings”, in opposing ways that to the viewer still makes perfect sense.

Although the series struggles to pace at first, depicting the quiet existence of residents around the “Crock Pot,” the action slowly – almost imperceptibly, like a frog in heated water. slow – turns into a real battle against the scorched earth. between the faithful and the skeptics.

Blind faith

Father Paul wearing a purple chasuble for the Lenten season.Netflix

I asked my mom to watch the first episode of Midnight Mass with me, hoping her years of Catholic school and Sunday school teaching would provide some insight. Immediately, at the scene of Father Paul’s first mass, she knew something was wrong.

“He’s got the wrong chasuble color,” she said, speaking over the processional hymn. “She said it was regular time, so he should be wearing green.”

Sure enough, this discrepancy was pointed out by the overzealous Bev Keane (Samantha Sloyan) a few minutes later. On the other side Midnight Mass, Flanagan painstakingly reproduces what it feels like to grow up in a Catholic, from the wrong song to the lighting of incense and everything in between. He knows this world well enough to gradually distort it.

It is no coincidence that the series names each episode after a book in the Bible. These are not just symbolic titles. Each is explained in detail throughout a given episode, starting with Genesis and, of course, ending with Apocalypse.

The time that elapses between the seven episodes is also intentional. We see the last Sunday in ordinary time with a nearly empty church, and then as Ash Wednesday and the season of Lent take place, there is interest in the congregation, especially once the miracles start to happen. Just as Easter is the peak of the liturgical year, it is also the peak of Flanagan’s story.

If there is one thing that is clear in the Scriptures, it is that the Lord gives and the Lord takes away. No miracle is priceless. How much would you be willing to sacrifice to witness or obtain a miracle? would you sacrifice your humanity itself? It’s these puzzles Midnight Mass proposes to answer.

The big questions

Erin Greene brings faith and heart to the series’ narrative.Netflix

Why do people seek religion? Sometimes it’s to find a purpose, as in the way Bev Keane lets the Church consume her life. Sometimes it’s for comfort, like the way the crippled Leeza (Annarah Cymone) uses faith to come to terms with her plight in life. And sometimes, it’s to answer the big questions: who are we? Why were we put on Earth? What happens when we perish?

These are questions Flanagan addressed in his previous work for Netflix: The Haunting of Hill Housee and its follow-up, The Haunting of Bly’s Mansion.

Any ghost story, of course, reflects what happens after the end of our life. But in Midnight Mass, death is not seen as the dreaded end of a long life, but simply as a transition to the life we ​​are meant to lead. This life and this body are temporary, according to Catholic teachings.

Unfortunately, this broad reach can backfire. In Midnight Mass, these conversations bring the sci-fi action to a screeching halt as the characters discuss existential topics that by their very nature are imaginary. We don’t know what Heaven looks like, so all we can do is watch them speculate. It’s a great showcase for the acting talent of the cast, but it doesn’t make television as thrilling as other parts of the series do.

Long monologues are delivered by various characters discussing their faith. Whether it is the rational but loyal Erin Greene (Kate Siegel) discussing the afterlife, the Muslim sheriff Hassan (Rahul Kohli) reflecting on the place of the Bible in his faith, or the atheist Riley Flynn describing the rush of chemicals his brain will release when his life is choked, Midnight Mass makes these conversations the center of his message.

More things in heaven and earth

A group of residents of Crockett Island marvel at an offscreen threat.Netflix

There are a lot of things i could say about Midnight Mass as a Cradle Catholic, as a supernatural TV aficionado, and as a lover of small town ensemble shows, but that would be tantamount to causing trouble. Yes, the first episode crawls by describing the banality of this set, but by the end you will be supporting them as they fight for their lives.

Even in the first episode, it’s obvious how beautiful the series looks. Episode 2 begins with a long traveling shot, following the characters in a choreographed sequence that resembles a cross between a play and West wing. Other shots use Dutch angles and sudden cuts to communicate dream sequences or use traditional religious art forms like woodcuts to illustrate anecdotes.

Under all the artistic symbolism, Midnight Mass it is still horror. If you’re afraid of jumps like me, rest assured, the shocks of this series are limited to an occasional face in a window accompanied by a musical sting. While Hill House focused on the inherent fear of memory and Manor of Bly focused on mourning, Midnight Mass relies on the terrifying prospect of a higher power – and that doesn’t necessarily mean God.

Because of this new, broader focus and Mike Flanagan’s personal connection to the topics covered, I was more afraid of Midnight Mass than by the general goosebumps of Manor of Bly. Considering the great popularity of this series, this is quite an achievement.

The musical choices underline it from beginning to end, with choral and bewitching songs. More than once I have found myself singing, accessing memories of chants at Mass. I don’t even know how I remembered the lyrics, but I was there singing “Nearer My God to Thee” with the people of Crockett Island.

I can only speak about this series as someone with a deeply personal connection to its subject matter. But even if you were raised non-Catholic or non-religious, the moments of Midnight Mass who dwell on the human condition place her firmly in the company, if not above, that of Flanagan. Haunted series.

Midnight Mass premieres September 24 on Netflix.

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