8 Things You Need To Know About Midnight Mass

Hill House horror maestro Mike Flanagan pulls back on the jump scares and ghost stories for a new Netflix series that draws its chills from fanaticism, addiction, heartbreak, and the human condition.

by | September 23, 2021 | Comments

Mike Flanagan’s new limited series Midnight Mass, with its Biblical horror and everyday villains, will surely have people talking. “Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves,” reads Bible verse Matthew 7:15, and Flanagan has conjured one of nightmares.

Set mostly in the downtrodden island community of Crockett Island, the story follows Riley Flynn (Zach Gilford), a disgraced young man who returns home after a tragedy only to witness the galvanization of the island’s inhabitants after a mysterious, and seemingly miraculous, preacher named Father Paul (Hamish Linklater) arrives.

The actors filling out the series’ ensemble cast include Flanagan regular (and wife) Kate Siegel as Erin Greene, Henry Thomas as Ed Flynn, Rahul Kohli as Sheriff Hassan, Samantha Sloyan as Bev Keane, Annabeth Gish as Dr. Sarah Gunning, Kristin Lehman as Annie Flynn, Robert Longstreet as Joe Collie, Crystal Balint as Dolly, Michael Trucco as Wade, Annarah Cymone as Leeza, Rahul Abburi as Ali Hassan, and Matt Biedel as Sturge.

This is the first time Flanagan has directed an entire series since his groundbreaking work on every episode of Netflix’s Certified Fresh phenomenon The Haunting of Hill House. He’d been working on the story since 2010, and Midnight Mass has quickly become the must-see horror series of 2021. Don’t take it from us, though. Stephen King — the literary icon Flanagan partnered with to adapt Gerald’s Game and Doctor Sleep — has given the series high praise, and it’s already Certified Fresh at 95% on the Tomatometer thanks to early reviews.

Rotten Tomatoes spoke with Mike Flanagan and the cast to find out more about the series. Here are eight things you need to know about Midnight Mass.


(Photo by Netflix © 2021)

When it comes to the horror genre, religious subject matter, biblical imagery, and the thought-provoking details that can come with it have always fit quite well together. And, as Flanagan pointed out, the connection between religion and the gruesome and terrifying is not at all difficult to find.

“When I was a kid and in Bible study, the horror elements embedded in the Bible are impossible to ignore,” he said. “You’ve got angels patrolling through Egypt and slaughtering the firstborn. You’ve got the river turning to blood. You’ve got plagues of locusts, and a pillar of fire. And you’ve got a God who’s thrilled to just murder people at will and full of wrath. You’ve got demons, you’ve got talking serpents, you’ve got people being torn apart, torture, and it’s all there.”


Midnight Mass

(Photo by Netflix © 2021)

“We had actual priests there helping us out making sure that everything was in the right place,” Linklater told Rotten Tomatoes. “But if you’re Catholic or Jewish or any religion, I think you understand guilt, perhaps. And an appetite, perhaps. I think we could all bring understandings to it, regardless of our denominational backgrounds.”

Flanagan grew up in the Catholic Church and was an altar boy for a good portion of his childhood, leaving many in the cast to acknowledge his deep knowledge of the Bible as an integral tool in telling this story. His relationship with the church may have evolved over the years, but Flanagan stands firm on his assurance that Midnight Mass does not vilify religion.

“We were very careful to make sure that this show has an open invitation to people of any belief system,” Flanagan said. “Its core values, in a sense, are very Christian: empathy, kindness, concern for your fellow man … It celebrates our capacity for belief and our capacity for faith.”


Midnight Mass

(Photo by Eike Schroter / Netflix © 2021)

Unlike Flanagan’s Haunting series on Netflix, Midnight Mass isn’t embedded in the ghost story aesthetics the writer-director is known for. There is a different sort of insidious nature to the threats here. Wherever faith and religion are, fundamentalism and fanaticism are not far behind.

“Fanaticism and aggressiveness — those things are baked into the DNA of the show,” Flanagan explained, acknowledging a willingness in everyday people to have faith in something that can end up corrupted and weaponized.

“How do you take somebody who you think is a rational person, or a person of faith, or a person that you think is a little like you and walk them into this place where they would willingly kill themselves for an idea?”

In Midnight Mass, Flanagan does his best to make sense of this type of human horror.


Zach Gilford and Hamish Linklater in Midnight Mass

(Photo by Eike Schroter / Netflix © 2021)

Midnight Mass isn’t the first project in which Flanagan explores the concept of addiction and recovery. It’s a theme that is pervasive throughout his Doctor Sleep adaptation and bits of it pop up in The Haunting of Hill House. That said, his personal struggles with alcohol helped shed some necessary light on this project, which he says previously existed as a book, a screenplay for a movie, and multiple iterations of a TV show before Netflix picked up the idea.

Admitting he had a problem with alcohol gave him the clarity needed to make this version of Midnight Mass, he said: “It’s a very different show with three years of sobriety behind me than it would have been before that. I feel like it would have been an incomplete conversation.”

The internal monologues, debates, and discussions Flanagan had with himself throughout this drawn-out process all ended up going into the show.

“Those conversations were so inseparable in my head, that this show was always where they were just kind of dumped,” he said. “It’s where they lived as a record of my perspective of sobriety through various points of my life — in the full grips of it, in the denial of it, and in the acceptance of it.”


Hamish Linklater in Midnight Mass

(Photo by Eike Schroter / Netflix © 2021)

When it comes to seeing a priest in a horror story, the common audience expectation is that he is the villain. It’s a common trope in horror. Flanagan chose a different road.

“When it became clear that Father Paul could still do all of the horrible things I needed him to for the story while being a good person with a pure motive, then I felt like we had a show that was about something,” Flanagan said.

From day one, Linklater set out to bring authenticity and truth to the role.

“One of my first conversations with Mike was, ‘I’m playing a priest in this genre. I just want to make sure you don’t want me to be skewed, or sinister, or scary, or anything like that,'” Linklater said. “The guy is trying to do the right thing all the way through it, as far as his understanding of what the right thing is.”


(Photo by Netflix)

It’s a fair assessment to say we’ve not seen many Muslim sheriffs in modern-day entertainment. Rahul Kohli’s Sheriff Hassan is here to change that perspective. According to the Haunting of Bly Manor alum, it was the combination of two cultural polarities that really excited him to play the part.

“You’ve got the quintessential American hero in cinema: the sheriff. John Wayne,” he explained. “He saves the day and he is the ultimate hero in America. Then, there’s the Hassan bit. You’ve got America’s greatest villain post-911: the bearded brown man. The Muslim. Those two things get fused. And that was the first thing that was very apparent to me with the sheriff. And I loved that. I loved how confusing that image is.”


Kate Siegel in Midnight Mass

(Photo by Eike Schroter / Netflix © 2021)

We could easily call the love story that centers Midnight Mass another subverted genre trope, but that would downplay the dynamic of the relationship that unfolds between Zach Gildord’s Riley and Kate Siegel’s Erin. The result of their subdued chemistry points to a lived-in notion of how love can change over time.

“One of the things you learn, I believe, is when you get a little bit older and you get into your late 30s, early 40s, is this feeling that if you went back to your high school sweetheart, maybe everything would be OK,” Siegel said. “No, that’s gone … You see the disappointment in both of them that the innocence of childhood is lost. That first love is lost.”

What remains, she says, is something deeper and more profound: “The quiet understanding of someone who’s actually seen who you are.”


Rahul Kohli and Robert Longstreet in Midnight Mass

(Photo by Eike Schroter / Netflix © 2021)

Midnight Mass doesn’t directly address our own society’s polarization and political upheaval, but it doesn’t take a lot of brainpower to connect the dots between the story Flanagan and his team are telling here and the current state of the world.

The combination of fear, misinformation, and disenfranchisement reveals itself as a potent mix that can lead to unspeakable acts under the guise of religious ideology. It’s a bleak idea that resonates with our present-day reality. But remember this is a Mike Flanagan joint: As dark and troubling as things get, he makes sure to imbue his characters with love and empathy, leaving traces of hope along the way. Midnight Mass is no different.

“There is a requirement for deep listening, and attention,” Annabeth Gish said of the series. “I think there’s a real availability for understanding about what’s happening in our world right now. It’s very timely. So, I hope that people receive that. I think there’s something very special about this project.”

Midnight Mass launches on Friday, September 24, on Netflix.

On an Apple device? Follow Rotten Tomatoes on Apple News.

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