Midnight Mass: Mike Flanagan and the horror of blind faith

by Shaurya Chawla

[WARNING: contains MAJOR SPOILERS for Midnight Mass]

Religion is a powerful thing in our society. Many of us grow up following one, whether it be Christianity, Hinduism, Islam etc., each one bringing forth its own ideas of what a higher power is and its core beliefs that followers should apply to their lives. Many pieces of media have covered this topic in varying ways, especially in the horror genre. Most notably, the idea of blind faith. When we decide to put everything in the hands of God. No matter what the act may be, it’s justified because it happened in the eyes of God and that’s how He wanted things to go.

That concept is exactly what’s tackled in the latest horror series, Midnight Mass, now streaming on Netflix. Directed by Mike Flanagan, the man behind The Haunting of Hill House and Bly Manor, the story of a remote island which begins witnessing miracles after the arrival of a new priest is rooted in exactly that concept, and how far it can go. Almost every resident of Crockett Island is a devout Catholic, preaching the good word of the Lord. At the helm of it is Beverly Keane (Samantha Sloyan), a woman who believes every action a person takes is valid, because that’s what God intended. Her stance is enhanced by the arrival of Father Paul Hill (Hamish Linklater), who comes in as a substitute for Monsignor Pruitt for a little while, and brings with him miracles that shock the residents. But some, like Erin Greene (Kate Siegel) see through that, and want to stop something awful from happening.

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Flanagan’s horror has often stemmed less from the supernatural elements dialed up to 11, but from those aspects of our lives that we see around us and/or experience at all times. In Hill House, he tackled the idea of isolation and family, and how those two elements can cause tragedy. In Bly Manor, every decision revolved around the concept of forbidden love, and the consequences of wanting it. Midnight Mass’ horror comes from how much belief people put in religious writings, and what that can lead to. Once we find out in Episode 3 that Paul is Pruitt but made younger due to being bitten by a vampire-like creature (who is looked upon as an ‘angel’ of God later) in a cave, he murders a Crockett local and drinks his blood, and when found out by Keane, she tries to justify his grotesque murder by quoting scripture that she believes implies this is what God wanted, and what the island is about to go through was written.

It’s this blind belief that leads to almost the entire town eventually consuming poisoned ‘blood of Christ’ at the chapel and becoming people like Pruitt by dying first and then coming back to life, and whoever doesn’t follow will have judgment passed down on them for not following the Lord’s words, i.e, killed. Something about Flanagan’s show–a passion project of his he’s wanted to make for years—feels awfully timely. The idea of a plague being spread and the cure being within it, all in the eyes of God, are words we’ve heard variations over the past year and a half as well. Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, there have been several instances where folks said that the virus was a test of faith and that God will come through and help us all, and in that blind belief that that’s what will work, lives have unfortunately been lost.

Religion can be a beautiful thing. There are many texts and stories in mythology that exist which tell wonderful stories of gods and their miraculous acts of nature. But like anything in the world, if used in the wrong way, it can have severe consequences. Blind faith is dangerous because it leads people to think that anything and everything is right, and that is a scary world to live in. Sadly, God isn’t the reason for everything. Sometimes, it’s the people. The show hones in on this in a few ways, even while discussing alcoholism in Riley Flynn’s (Zach Gilford) case.

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In Midnight Mass, the belief that this plague will save them ends up working against them as the cons come with “burning if you’re exposed to sunlight”, and as the show comes to a close, that’s exactly what happens. It’s heartbreaking not just from a narrative perspective, as you see characters you’ve come to like over these seven episodes burn away while singing “Nearer my God to Thee” in their final moments, but it makes you feel bad because it could’ve all been avoided, if those religious leaders in the chapel spoke up and said “this is wrong”, and called out these practices. But instead, it dooms the entire population. And despite saying it was all God’s plan from the beginning, there is irony to be found in how Keane is the one who tries to dig through the sandy beach to avoid the sun at the end, but fails.

At the end, as the credits rolled, that’s the only thought you’re left with. How dangerous blind faith can be. I would like to clarify: I’m not saying one shouldn’t believe in the powers that be. This writer does as well. But Flanagan hits the nail on the head with how like anything in life, too much of something can be bad, and the devastating impact it can have on the lives of innocent people. Midnight Mass ends up serving as both a masterful work of horror and a commentary on the worst aspects of baseless belief. A warning sign, that feels all too familiar in our current world.

Midnight Mass is available to watch on Netflix

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