The Midnight Club is Mike Flannigan’s new horror series on Netflix and despite comparisions with The Haunting of Hill House and Midnight Mass, this is something altogether different. Since exploding onto the horror scene in 2011 with Absentia, Flannigan has proved to be one of the all-time greats in his field. Strong direction, a visual flair and a real understanding of what makes good horror became a key component of Flannigan movies and a fan base that was becoming disillusioned found its new rising star.
When he released The Haunting Of Hill House in 2018 as a 10-part mini-series through Netflix it proved to audiences that horror could be a TV-based affair, didn't have to be on a cinema screen and that a good director with a solid script and passion could maintain a level of unease and fear across 10 hours of content.
In 2020, Netflix decided that they needed more from Flannigan and released Midnight Mass. Again, a multi part ‘horror’ epic that caught its audience out by not only being a solid scare fest but also being a delicate and passionate investigation into faith, loss, guilt, redemption and the nature of decline. It was an outstanding show (my personal pick of 2020) and marked Flannigan out as not only being the undisputed king of streaming thrillers but also as a real talent in terms of his writing and direction.
What is The Midnight Club about?
Based on the seminal 1994 book by prolific young adult fiction writer Christopher Pike, The Midnight Club is a 10-part horror-thriller about a group of terminally ill teenagers living out their final days at Brightcliffe Manor hospice. On a night they tell stories to scare and entertain each other and form a pact that the first to die will try and contact the others from beyond the grave. The stories they tell range from outright horror, to Sci-Fi, to romance and pretty much everything in between and this opens the series up to being an anthology of sorts.
The setting is perfectly designed with long winding corridors, abandoned basements, locked rooms, a morgue and the story opens to to include secret cult like organisations, a hidden history, miraculous recoveries and in typical Flannigan fashion a variety of ghosts that creep, jump and scare. Everything is laid out ready for the cast to play their part, to tell their stories against this almost stage like backdrop.
Who is in The Midnight Club?
The cast is a split affair. Firstly there are the ‘grown ups’ played to great effect by the usual Flannigan players (Zach Gilford, Matt Biedel, Heather Langenkamp and a stand out performance by Robert Longstreet) and then the ensemble cast of the ‘teens’. These tell the stories, see the ghosts and are the basis for the show. Here we see the first glimpse of the real nature of the show which I will come to later and I feel has been missed in so many reviews and social commentaries.
The main plot follows Ilonka (Iman Benson) who is sent to Brightcliffe following a terminal cancer diagnosis. There she meets the rest of the Midnight Club; Kevin (Igby Rigney), Sandra (Annarah Cymone), Anya (Ruth Codd), Natsuki (Aya Furukawa), Spencer (William Chris Sumpter), Cheri (Adia) and Amish (Sauriyan Sapkota). All there for the same reason but fighting their own battles and their own particular conditions. They all share the same fear though; death is coming for them, no matter what they do, and without exception.
The show throws these characters into the mystery of the house and its heritage, the possibility of cult activities and the lives of those who have come, and gone, before them in the house. Through the episodes the mystery of the house unfolds as our anthology stories are told by the protagonists heading towards a dual conclusion.
Is the Midnight Club any good?
The Midnight Club is, I believe, massively misunderstood at the moment in review and on social media. Due to It being a Flannigan production it has been sold by Netflix and by its marketing as a horror show with a huge amount of jump scares and a terrifying premise. This is simply not the case and in many ways this notion has damaged what I believe to be a fantastic piece of writing.
Firstly the show is not for adults. It is by its very nature a YA production. This is a show about loss, about fear and about grief. Like Midnight Mass before it, Flannigan has written a piece about people coming to terms with, accepting and moving on from their own loss and the fear of what is to come. Through their stories around the table, the characters approach their own impending end and learn to accept it. Yes they will die, but they will not be alone. The show is not meant to be seen through the eyes of an adult, it is a show meant for teenagers, it is their story.
This is the thing that I think people have not understood and reviews calling it ‘weak’, ‘understated’ and ‘not scary’ have fully missed the point. Its written as a kind of eulogy to those in the situation. A tribute to a shared strength. The ‘ghosts’ are nothing more than the internal fears of our characters, the stories meant to entertain, to distract and to give those facing death a way to verbalise their emotions. It is not a horror show, It is a coping mechanism that I believe really does work well when seen as such.
The cast all give solid performances, with Ruth Cobb (Anya) being a huge stand out. Despite it being her first TV role, she owns every scene and reminds me of a young Robert Sheehan when Misfits and Umbrella Academy first came out. She is fantastic and one to watch for the future (watch out for her in Mike Flannigans next full project, The Fall Of The House Of Usher in 2023).
Can we also give a huge heap of praise on the decision to keep the show based in the mid 1990’s rather than a modernisation? This allows the show to have probably the best soundtrack of the year. Any TV show that opens with Stone Temple Pilots and ends with Soundgarden really does get extra points!
Should I watch it?
The Midnight Club is not Haunting Of Hill House. Its doesnt try to be and was never intended to be. Critical and public comparisons have missed the point. It is a solid, well crafted, beautifully shot and very well written exploration of fear, grief, loss and the nature of friendship against impossible odds. I really enjoyed the show and would fully recommend it. Horror purists will disagree but honestly it was never meant for them.
The Midnight Club is available in full now on Netflix.