Midnight Mass Review: Keep The Faith And Follow Mike Flanagan Down A Haunting Rabbit Hole

"The more specific we are, the more universal we become." So goes the saying, thrust upon writers of all craft: a stark reminder of the similarities in our differences, the shared foundation of our lives. When all else fails, specificity resonates, overwhelming the details to underscore truth. "Midnight Mass" reveals itself over time as Mike Flanagan's most haunting work yet, because it is indisputably personal and entirely his own. The questions that plague the author quickly engulf the audience.

To call "Midnight Mass" thought-provoking undersells its value, obscures its approach — Mike Flanagan's newest miniseries taps into your brain like a dream. We may bring our own religious baggage to the party, but Flanagan's story has a way of triggering it, evoking thoughts so carefully tucked away. And for that, it thrives.

"Midnight Mass" demands a vow of secrecy from those who watch because the less you know, the better. Lead-up to the release took care to keep the mystery alive, and still Flanagan has tirelessly made one thing very clear: This is not "The Haunting of Hill House" nor its sister series, "Bly Manor." Those may be the reason his name strikes a chord, if not his delightfully wicked Stephen King adaptation "Doctor Sleep." But "Midnight Mass" beats to the sounds of its own drum, asking you to leave his prior work at the door and allow it the space to carve its own indent into your mind. There you'll find the tattered, shabby imprints of Crockett Island, an isolated island community, slowly dissolving into non-existence.

Welcome to Crockett Island

Crockett, both fondly and mockingly referred to as the Crock Pot, is surrounded on all sides by grey waters and overcast skies. If Riley Flynn (Zach Gilford) could only have his way, he would never again live under the dull aura of the island. But then, if the world was entirely in Riley's control he would not have spent four years in prison, consumed by self-hatred after causing a tragic accident.

Newly paroled and left with few options, Riley returns home to find the island more barren than he left it. The only consolation is the presence of his childhood friend, Erin Greene (Kate Siegel), another Crockett escapee who ended up back where she started. Haunted by their histories and failed attempts to leave the past behind, the pair take comfort in one another. And more often than not, they strike fear with one of the series' most powerful weapons: conversation. Every now and then they relish in relief that the deepest, darkest mysteries looming over their lives are shared by another — and the kinship we inevitably share with them unsettles.

But Erin and Riley are just the tip of the iceberg in Crockett. In fact, they aren't even the only new blood in town. Another new arrival is the charismatic Father Paul (Hamish Linklater), who brings about what many of the pious islanders describe as salvation. The new priest of the town church, St. Patrick's, Father Paul performs miracles and reignites religious fervor. For those like the holier-than-thou Bev Keane (Samantha Sloyan) this is a blessing, while the more skeptical of the bunch worry it might be something else entirely. And their instincts aren't far off because, unbeknownst to many, the miracles come at a horrifying cost.

History proves that it's not difficult to find horror in religion — and certainly not in something as morbid as Christianity. Add Catholic rituals into the mix and the scares are practically built into the narrative. The simple act of holding up the sacrament and fiercely reciting verses or the community joining together in song following a disturbing revelation — those scenes can terrify. And still, Flanagan has so much more in store.

The True Horrors Live Amongst Us

The horror is supernatural, but born of human nature. "Midnight Mass" studies faith and tests the core of religion. It prods at fears of oblivion, letting existential dread worm its way through the story and into your head. Flanagan coaxes out the darkest thoughts, the ones that dull the stars and cloud out light, and he feeds them. As always, his scares are rooted in emotion, lingering in part because of the breathlessness caused by each revelation but mostly because the thoughts he provokes refuse to fade away. It's not the kind of scary that leaps into view, but the kind that settles in your chest with the weight of an anvil, unmoving.

The eerie scenery and minute details of Crockett Island help the horrors along. The series weaves its way through the community, ingraining us in the environment and into the lives of our stunning ensemble. Flanagan carefully grants each character their moment to shine, to carve themselves open and live in some soul-baring moment. Hamish Linklater stuns, toeing lines of morality with magnetism and ease, often remaining the centerpiece amongst a scene-stealing cast. Rahul Kohli is a particular standout; as Sheriff Hassan, he seemingly takes his time to reveal himself. But from the beginning, his pain and stirring conflict is vivid, in his eyes and between his reactions, before finally reaching his words. Supporting them in the background are the ominous compositions, folk songs, and hymns that strike forboding chords of familiarity. And, for the most part, everything works in harmony.

It's not a perfect thing. There are times when you feel the length of the series. Though it only spans 7 episodes, each chapter of the story hits the hour mark, often extending past it. And moment by moment, that time drags on. There are threads of repetition and moments of pause, but "Midnight Mass" is never tedious or without reason. Flanagan is indulging, digging into the personal, leaving no stone unturned — and yes, there are some darlings left to kill. But should you find yourself doubting the series' direction, he has a way of earning your trust, scene by scene, with a monologue that stuns and aches or newfound tension blooming before our eyes. Not every indulgence cracks you open but when they do, "Midnight Mass" proves worth ever second.

Salvation does not await you at the end of "Midnight Mass." The story of Crockett Island is not overly concerned with your emotional catharsis. This has never been about satisfaction. It's a cliché to say that the journey takes precedence, but it does. The very depths of it, the jagged edges and frayed beliefs that crop up along the way. If you give yourself over to it, that's what awaits in Flanagan's story. Just don't lose faith.