[REVIEW] ‘Midnight Mass’ Shows What Can Happen When Religion Borders Into Cult Status

I watched the popular limited Netflix series while getting work done over the course of 3 different days. What started as an interest binge on a weekend quickly became a mini-obsession for me by Monday. By Tuesday, I had finished the show and I was left with a distinct unsettling feeling that I couldn’t let go of and a need to call my (Christian) mom and tell her to watch it immediately. (We both LOVE vampires.)

Let’s start with the town:

What starts as a sleepy fishing village where nothing ever seems to happen kind of quickly devolves into a mass of hysteria and a blind-faith-following town where nothing is really questioned and the Church holds all the cards. Which is a frightening prospect in itself. Throw in some misguided folks mistaking a Nosferatu-type-vampire for a literal angel and you can possibly see what I mean.

I found the town, and especially the characters in it, the main point of the show. The story is told in this…slow, almost crawling way that makes you nervous that something’s going to happen. Well, when it does, that slow crawl doesn’t entirely dissipate. You’re on the edge of your seat for every episode as the tension–and the horror–ramps up.

Now, the horror isn’t the “in your face” blood and guts. This is a dread (my favorite kind) as those higher up in the caste system of the town begin to move things to their desires (in lieu of spoiling it for those that haven’t watched), in order to — in their eyes — save the town.

What Midnight Mass excels at is the horror of it all–the horror of the Church–of religion–Christianity in particular, when it isn’t a safe haven, when it isn’t a place of comfort.

One character I will point out is that of the sycophantic churchwoman, played by Samantha Slovan (Grey’s Anatomy, Scandal), Bev Keane, who I just wanted to kick in the mouth. She’s every “god-fear, church-going, there before everyone else, last to leave” person you’d see at church that she’s hard to miss. Her…faith takes her down some dark places but it never leaves you surprised at anything she does. She’s a “god-fearing woman” through and through and unfortunately for the town, she doesn’t bat an eye (literally) at anything that happens. She embraces it.

Bev Keane | Netflix

This, of course, makes for a dangerous combination and her actions really drove home the point that people can literally do anything if they believe it is for their highest good. Even if it’s not. Especially if it’s not.

She, above all other characters, even the pastor who brings this…affliction onto the town, turned the town’s religion into a cult. The ostracization of those that ‘didn’t attend church’ enough in her eyes, and the way she fell back on seemingly every line in the Bible to push her own agendas was indicative to me of a lot of cult leaders that carry out those same practices. “If you’re not one of us, you’re the enemy.”

This show brought back a lot of moments in my upbringing where I remembered hearing those seeds of ostracization: “If you don’t go to church, you won’t be saved.” “If you don’t stand up and sing, Jesus won’t save you.”

I’ve seen a lot of other reviews that have spoken about this kind of thing–what Midnight Mass brings out in us: Repressed childhood memories of the church, this need to escape, to get out of what did not fit us but fit our families and friends.

But what Midnight Mass excels at is the horror of it all–the horror of the Church–of religion–Christianity in particular, when it isn’t a safe haven, when it isn’t a place of comfort. When your religion becomes corrupted, becomes unidentifiable, when you have no choice but to leave while your family and friends get sucked further into the church’s hivemind way of thinking, of “being,” you can become a “monster” to them. But the monster in Midnight Mass is not someone that has strayed from the Church, though those people are ostracized and vilified by Bev Keane–no, the monster, aside from the horrific Nosferatu-angel, is the religion itself and how it has been twisted by those that absolutely swear by its words–even as they pervert those words into something unrecognizable, something truly monstrous.

About that “angel:”

Because this is Monster Thoughts, we have to talk about the monster though we recognize that “the monster” can be called various individuals in the show: The Pastor, played by the incredible Hamish Linklater (The New Adventures of Old Christine, The Crazy Ones), and Bev Keane.

No, the monster, the physical manifestation of the monstrous antics that happen in this sea-side town, dubbed “the angel” by the Pastor, is at first glance, a vampire. A Nosferatu-esque, bat-like, vampire. And this monster is the reason I watched the show to begin with.

It showed up on the trailer on Netflix after I’d finished watching something else. I saw the bat-like wings and had to know more.

Now, this “angel” whose origins are never made clear, is the catalyst, of course, for all that transpires in the town and I found it stunning that the Pastor immediately refers to it as an “angel.” It made sense: angels inspire fear in those that see them, they have wings…etc. This vampire bestows upon them “eternal life,” after a short death of course, and the twisting of words, the construing of the Bible to fit what has and will happen to them is a revelation unto itself–well, it was to me. Biblical passages are repeated ad nauseum throughout the show, things I could barely remember from my childhood but that made sense for what they were witnessing/undergoing, “Partake of my flesh and have eternal life. Drink of my blood.” The way the writers did this–as a writer myself, I was hooked. It was genius. To say any more would spoil it, but it’s safe to say, I think, that this is one of the most inventive ways I’ve seen the vampire done.

The “Angel” | Netflix

Ratings:

Midnight Mass: An incredibly introspective, slow-burning horror that dares the viewer to confront their own fears, thoughts, and beliefs about religion.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Monster: A gorgeously-created take on the vampire and angels, and a horrifying look at how people use religion to gain power in their own lives.

Rating: 5 out of 5.
S.C. Parris
S.C. Parris

is the author of The Dark World series (2016-2022), owner of Monster Thoughts.com, host of the Monster Thoughts Podcast, and streams on Twitch when she’s not writing.

Leave a Reply