‘Midnight Mass:’ Horrific tale shows complex relationship of class and religion
Hamish Linklater as Father Paul in 'Midnight Mass'. | Courtesy Netflix

Spoiler-free review

Filmmaker Mike Flanagan’s newest creative addition to the Netflix streaming service just may be his most haunting. That is because it touches upon a subject that, although universal, often is made to feel taboo to discuss. The limited series Midnight Mass uses horror to explore the dark role religion can play in the lives of working-class people. Viewers will be taken on a journey involving both sinister and benevolent forces, which may have them reflecting on the complex role faith and dogma has played in the history of humankind—for better and worse.

Written and directed by Flanagan (Doctor Sleep, The Haunting of Hill House), Midnight Mass tells the tale of a small, isolated island community dealing with longstanding divisions among its townsfolk. Soon, they are visited by a charismatic priest named Father Paul. The priest’s appearance on Crockett Island is followed by unexplained events that seem like miracles. This ignites a renewed religious fervor that takes hold of the township, but these miracles may come at too high a price. Relevant and controversial themes such as fanaticism, faith, despair, and economic hardship collide for powerful storytelling, although the journey is a bit sluggish at times.

There are a number of plotlines in the series, but the most prevalent—and powerful—is that of the role of religion in the lives of everyday people. More specifically, everyday working-class people who are dealing with economic hardship in a society that often favors large corporations and the wealthy. Crockett Island has seen better days, and because of this, the townsfolk may seem more susceptible to the assurances offered by religious faith, since real world reason has left them wanting. This was a great decision on Flanagan’s part because it opens up an exploration of the duality of faith in working-class communities.

Throughout human history, we have seen instances in which great acts of cruelty were carried out in the name of religion. One doesn’t have to go that far back to find such examples, because many have happened in recent years. Dogma and religious self-righteousness have combined many times to justify instances of injustice. Look no further than the recent passing of Texas laws giving citizens the right to play bounty hunters against women who dare to get an abortion, simply because there is a religious belief held by some that conscious “life” begins in the womb at the time of impregnation. There is a long dark history of the things religious claims have sanctioned, and Midnight Mass attempts to tackle it head on.

And it does a pretty great job at it, too. Is Heaven appealing because our reality has been made so brutal? Do poor communities seek the guidance of God because government leaders have failed to give them a concrete alternative? Does religion empower the people, or make them complacent in their suffering? All these questions and more are tackled against the backdrop of a horror story, because yes, this is still a horror story.


The terror in the series divides its time between subtle and overt. There will be some gruesome and bloody scenes, but they are often built upon by longer instances of tension. This is not a show filled with jump scares, but rather it’s defined by fear that plays on the human condition. There are definitely monsters, but the viewers will have to decide if the scarier ones are those found in the supernatural or those among our human neighbors. One deals with the kind of terror that we may only know from movies, while the other touches on a danger that is no stranger to our reality. We’ve seen the damage that can be brought about from mobs of fanatics believing their cause is a righteous one, such as the January 6th Capitol riot. Midnight Mass isn’t at all on the nose with this comparison, but the subtle lesson is there to be learned.

Then again, it shouldn’t be thought that the series is a total condemnation of religion. It’s far from it actually. One gets the sense, from the variety of intriguing characters we meet in the show, that religion is more a tool whose purpose is determined by whoever is wielding it. This, too, speaks to the duality of faith in human history.

Of course, we can name the instances in which negative things have happened because of religion, but we also know of times when the positive has been produced as well. A good amount of the organizing for the Civil Rights Movement—a mass movement for equality against bigotry and oppression of marginalized peoples—happened in Black churches. It is through this same moral movement, targeting capitalist greed and oppression as the true ills of society, that we have organizations like today’s Poor People’s Campaign, led by reverends and other religious leaders. We also see instances similar to this in Midnight Mass through certain characters who use their faith against the sinister.

The fear in the show is so tangible because it feels so possible for our own world. There is a technical separation of church and state in the U.S., but we know from history that the lines are often blurred depending on who is in power and the purpose for which they want to use the “tool” of religion. What leaps of faith have leaders tried to make us take—be it to justify laws controlling a woman’s body, legitimizing the definition of “real God-fearing” Americans, or going along with condemning democratic elections? Scary stuff indeed.

Midnight Mass is seven episodes of intense storytelling. Heavy topics are explored and rarely is there much levity in the show. It’s not perfect, as some dialogue is longer than it needs to be, where characters give extensive monologues in a few places that don’t feel natural. This, thankfully, does not distract from what is, overall, a powerful tale. It’s chilling because it will hit many close to home, yet it also places a new spin on some tried-and-true monsters of horror. It’s a great addition to a genre that has a history of picking the world apart in order to make sense of it, one bloody piece at a time.

Midnight Mass is available globally on the Netflix streaming service starting Sept. 24, 2021.


Chauncey K. Robinson
Chauncey K. Robinson

Chauncey K. Robinson is an award winning journalist and film critic. Born and raised in Newark, New Jersey, she has a strong love for storytelling and history. She believes narrative greatly influences the way we see the world, which is why she's all about dissecting and analyzing stories and culture to help inform and empower the people.