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Review: Flanagan's 'Midnight Mass' is a bloody revelation

Slow burn Netflix series builds to a bloody climax, but is about far more than just gore.

Tom Long
Special to The Detroit News

Two men arrive on a small island that just over 100 people call home. 

One is a charismatic young priest (Hamish Linklater), supposedly on temporary assignment. The other, Riley Flynn (Zach Gilford), is an island native, returning after a stint in prison, which he earned by killing a girl in a drunken driving accident.

Hamish Linklater in "Midnight Mass."

Soon after they arrive minor and major miracles begin happening — a paralyzed girl walks, a woman with dementia suddenly becomes coherent, nearly everyone looks and feels younger. True, some odd things are happening (OK, some gruesome things are happening), but Pa’s back feels better and Ma no longer needs her glasses. Happy days!

Not quite. "Midnight Mass" is written and directed by Mike Flanagan, who created two previously successful, slow-burn horror shows for Netflix, “The Haunting of Hill House” and “The Haunting of Bly Manor.” He likes to use the same actors in his projects, most notably Henry Thomas, who plays Riley’s father here, and Kate Siegel (Flanagan’s wife) who plays a pregnant woman who’s also recently come home to the island.

For the first few episodes Flanagan’s pace again seems deliberate and measured. Characters are introduced, backgrounds are established, a lot of time is spent in church and a lot of time is spent mulling over meaning, faith and death.

But eventually “Midnight Mass” moves from slow-burn to absolute fireball. Creepy becomes gory and then goes bonkers. The final two episodes of this seven-episode show are both hard to watch and impossible not to watch.

The cast is strong and diverse, but Linklater is the clear standout, playing both devout and devious, mad with sureness. He carries this show, beginning to bloody end. 

But this isn’t a mere shriekfest. Flanagan’s exploring the danger of religious zeal, the siren of self-delusion and the twisted ends of extremism, things we encounter every day in the news and in real life. He’s reveling in horror while reflecting reality. Which is, of course, frightening. It should be.

Tom Long is a longtime contributor to The Detroit News.

'Midnight Mass'