Horror auteur Mike Flanagan is already closely identified with Stephen King, having helmed adaptations of Gerald’s Game (2017) and Doctor Sleep (2019). His latest, Netflix’s seven-part horror miniseries, Midnight Mass, is not a King adaptation, but it’s a riff. You can feel the influence of King’s better small-town horror novels in every shot, character, and scene. That’s no bad thing. I’d characterize the relationship between Midnight Mass and Stephen King’s oeuvre as similar to the connection between John Carpenter’s In the Mouth of Madness (1994) and the works of H.P. Lovecraft. Sometimes the best adaptation is no adaptation at all but a loving and respectful homage.
Set on the small fishing community of Crockett Island, Midnight Mass kicks off with two arrivals in town. One is a return: Riley Flynn (Zach Gilford) is back after a four-year stretch in prison for killing a girl while drink driving, the former venture capitalist now back in his childhood room under his parents’ (Kristin Lehman and Flanagan good luck charm Henry Thomas) roof. He’s wracked with guilt, lost his faith, and trying to keep it on an even keel.
It’s the faith element that is foregrounded; the island folk are deeply religious, and their society seems to revolve around their local Catholic Church. For sure, there’s the odd atheist and even a Muslim sheriff, Omar Hassan (Rahul Kohli), but the vast majority are very much down with the body and blood of Christ. Which brings us to our new arrival, young, charismatic Father Paul Hill (Hamish Linklater), who is a temporary replacement for the town’s beloved but elderly Monsignor Pruitt.