Netflix’s new horror series tackles religion and addiction

In his horror films and television shows, Mike Flanagan has adapted the work of authors ranging from Shirley Jackson to Henry James to Stephen King. His new original Netflix show is also inspired by literature and it’s not just any book.

This is the Good Book.

The scriptures and beliefs of the Bible share screen time with the man and the monster in “Midnight Mass” (streaming Friday), a seven-episode limited series ready for Halloween and Flanagan’s latest spooky creation to come. force-feed alongside “The Haunting of Hill House” and “The Haunting of Bly Mansion”.

This exploration of religion and drug addiction “has always been especially special to me because it is so embedded in my life and my childhood,” says Flanagan.

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“Mass” focuses on the small community of Crockett Island, where Riley Flynn (Zach Gilford) returns home a disgraced black sheep. Raised as a believer, Riley saw his life derailed in a drunk driving accident that killed a young woman – an incident that sent him to jail for four years and also took his faith away.

Riley reconnects with her pregnant childhood sweetheart Erin (Kate Siegel), another outcast among the locals. Riley’s return also coincides with the arrival of a mysterious and captivating new priest, Father Paul (Hamish Linklater). Masses are uncrowded, but after a series of miracles and supernatural examples, a religious revival sets in, and Riley, Erin, Sheriff Hassan (Rahul Kohli) and others investigate the darkness that seems to envelop the Isle.

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Sheriff Hassan (Rahul Kohli) is a recently relocated Muslim lawyer to Crockett Island in "Midnight Mass."

The concept of “Mass” arose from Flanagan’s experience as a Catholic choirboy struck by “the transubstantiation of bread and wine into the body and blood of Jesus,” he says. “We have been told that we eat flesh and drink blood to obtain eternal life. And as a child fascinated by horror, “I always felt that the handshake between these two concepts was so clear.”

Ultimately, the ‘mass’ became ‘a really wonderful opportunity for me to talk about things that are extremely important to me: sobriety and faith and the corrupting influence of fundamentalism on belief systems,’ says Flanagan. , who has struggled with alcoholism in her life and has now been sober for three years.

A former altar boy turned atheist, Riley (Zach Gilford) is haunted by the sins of his past in "Midnight Mass."

With Riley tormented every night by the chilling specter of the life he has taken, Flanagan created a man representing forgiveness even though he did something some might find unforgivable. It also symbolizes the deepest fear Flanagan ever had about his own drinking, that instead of getting drunk and dying in an accident, “I would kill someone else and live and I should reconcile that, ”he says.

Gilford might relate to Riley’s New Atheism: Raised Christian and Jew, Gilford recalls thinking, “Do you believe all this ?!” when he was 7 in synagogue. “He was a very religious person and then he had a traumatic experience of his fault,” Gilford said of his character. “And that made him question everything because if all of these things that I believe are true, why would it ever happen?”

Father Paul (Hamish Linklater) preaches to his people as Acolyte Bev Keane (Samantha Sloyan) watches in "Midnight Mass."

Father Paul, who tries to bond with reluctant Riley and even creates a local AA group for him, was meant to be a parallel to the character of Gilford. “He wants to bring miracles, health and kindness, and then his motives ultimately turn out to be very, very personal and charming,” says Flanagan. “It’s just that the methods by which he was coerced into this took a life of their own.”

Father Paul tells Riley that “the only person who doesn’t forgive you for the sins of your past or the sins of your present is you”, but “he’s sort of talking to himself at the same time” says Linklater, whose mother was agnostic but her grandmother “stole me from my mother in the middle of the night when I was a little baby and had me secretly baptized in the episcopal church.”

The third member of the show’s central trinity, Erin has become the voice of moderatism quietly espousing “the welcoming, forgiving, non-judgmental and loving ideas of Christianity,” says Flanagan.

Erin (Kate Siegel) is wary of fundamentalism that is on the rise in her city in "Midnight Mass."

When Riley returns, Erin experiences “a moment of duty to others. She’s able to give her the warmth she’s been denied from the city,” says Siegel, who wanted her role “to be a human being who does mistakes and always does its best and to represent the opposite of deities and angels and priests and the religious routine of Mass.

Flanagan has always loved parables in the Bible, stories meant to “help you learn to live your life a certain way, teach you something about what it means to be alive, and hopefully encourage you. to live your life with more forgiveness and kindness ”. And in creating his own version of that, Flanagan cleverly echoed the structure of the tome with his seven chapters of the “Midnight Mass”.

“You have your first act, your Genesis; your Psalms, your points where everything is in place and where the characters are somehow at their best; you have Wailing, the moment you pull the characters down and tear everything away from them to introduce a new alliance, ”says Flanagan. “As a parable, it was like a great chance to go back and make it as biblical as possible.”

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