What happens when someone or something is on the brink of death and their last attempt at life is, well, death?

Mike Flanagan answers that question in his haunting limited series “Midnight Mass.”

In my effort to be a great fiancé, I agreed to watch more “spooky” shows and movies with my horror-loving fiancé Nick. So, I chose “Midnight Mass,” which offers a little bit of church content and a little bit of horror; something for everyone.

The show revolves around the lives of a fishing village off the coast of the “mainland.” It’s a place for folks who have chosen to remain on the island for life and those who come back after losing their way or are seeking refuge in the familiar.

Life on Crockett Island is quiet with little concern for the outside world. The sheriff’s office and one jail cell fit in the back of the one general store, the schoolhouse has one room, and the one church on the far end of town is led by the veteran priest Monsignor Pruitt who is away on pilgrimage in the Holy Land.

However, parishioners at St. Patrick’s Catholic Church discover that a new, young and charismatic priest, Father Paul, has taken the monsignor’s place while he recovers from an unknown illness.

Within days of Father Paul’s time in Crockett, strange things begin to happen. The farsighted begin to see more clearly, bodily aches disappear and a paralyzed youth begins to walk again. Miracle or malady?

We spend the next five episodes learning the truth about the charismatic priest and the cost of retaining power and relevance.

The show begs us to rethink the miracles of Jesus and how we understand disability, growing old and the complexities of life that cannot be solved by cherry-picking scripture passages.

While we claim disability is not a side effect of sin, we still believe it is something that cuts life and living short. But is that true, or have we merely created a world that has hindered disabled siblings from living?

It was nice to hum along to the tune of familiar hymns while bracing in suspense for the horror to come popping out in dark corners or from under beds.


The tension of waiting for the scare was cut by the slow burn of realizing just how easy it was for Father Paul’s good intentions to turn into a deathcult. And, in the end, the real nightmare was watching the slippery slope of last ditch efforts to hold on to old ways.

It is not lost on me that the setting is a small island of frustrated fishermen whose way of life is now regulated by the state and is a primary cause for despair. Then, in comes a leader with new ideas and an inclusive understanding of community.

But where it deviates is when we see Father Paul begin to suffer, unable to hide his secret any longer. He leans on the hierarchy of his church to bring others into what he suffers from, confusing it with a divine gift.

We learn that it is through the communion wine that the priest is slowly “healing” his congregants in hopes of bringing a revival to the island. His well-intended mission to “fix” his people becomes an obsession aided by the zealous church associate Bev.

In a pivotal scene, avid churchgoers and newcomers are coerced into consuming poison with communion at the Easter vigil as an act of faith in hopes of their own resurrection.

While watching this scene, and listening to the charismatic preacher call them soldiers in God’s army and warriors of a kingdom, memories of worship services relying on emotional manipulation flooded my mind.

My hands went cold and clammy, thinking about the power faith leaders hold in their congregations and how easy it is to become fixated on blind worship and commitment.

I was never offered poison, but faith over fear in the extremities of the idea were preached with a militant fervor. And the negative impact of fear-based preaching is familiar these days as we grapple with the rise of Christian nationalism in the country.

The eager and downright cruel Bev serves as the all-too-familiar church leader who is more concerned with who is “in” and who is “out” than with the foundation of a loving hope-filled faith. Bev eventually turns on the priest, calling him a false prophet after he rejects the violence of the born again.

The actress who portrays her does a brilliant job of capturing the earnestness in which Bev prescribes eschatological passages to justify what happens on the island. In the end, it is not Bev or Father Paul who stops the violence but the sheriff, a devout Muslim who reminds us that what is done in darkness will eventually come to light.

“Midnight Mass” holds a mirror up to Christian spaces – progressive, conservative and whatever we consider in the middle – and asks us to discern what “healing” truly means, to accept aging and to recognize the difference between monsters and angels.

Age Rating: TV-MA

Genre: Drama, Horror, Mystery

Network / Distributor: Netflix

Creator: Mike Flanagan

Cast: Kate Siegel as Erin Greene; Zach Gilford as Riley Flynn; Kristin Lehman as Annie Flynn; Samantha Sloyan as Bev Keane; Rahul Kohli as Sheriff Hassan; Hamish Linklater as Father Paul.

The show’s website is here.

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