Mike Flanagan has established himself as one of the top horror directors working today. Gerald’s Game, an adaptation of a Stephen King novel deemed unfilmable by many, is one of the most terrifying horror films of the 21st century. His original horror flicks, Oculus and Hush, transcended merely jump-scares. Even Flanagan’s forays into franchise filmmaking with Ouija: Origin of Evil and The Shining: Doctor Sleep demonstrated his mastery of the genre.
The television productions The Haunting of Hill House and Midnight Mass from the previous year may be his best efforts. Hill House was Flanagan’s examination of the stages of sorrow, while its sequel, The Haunting of Bly Manor, explored issues of love; in Midnight Mass, Flanagan grappled with religion, drawing from his own Catholic upbringing.
The Midnight Club, Flanagan’s most recent series, maybe his most emotionally resonant work to date, as he juggles subjects including the art of storytelling, the end of life, and the very human fear of what comes next.
The Midnight Club is set in the 1990s and begins with Ilonka (Iman Benson), a top-of-her-class high school senior on her way to Stanford University in the fall.
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The film is based on Christopher Pike’s YA novel of the same name. In a sad twist of fate, Ilonka is diagnosed with thyroid cancer, forcing her to put her plans for an Ivy League degree on hold. When her condition is deemed terminal, she decides to stay at Dr. Georgina Stanton’s hospice for teens, Brightcliffe (Heather Langenkamp).
Ilonka meets the other patients, Natsuki (Aya Furukawa), Spencer (Chris Sumpter), Kevin (Igby Rigney), Cheri (Adia), Amesh (Sauriyan Sapkota), Sandra (Annarah Cymone), and Anya (Ruth Codd), each of whom has a unique diagnosis and fears.
Ilonka discovers the Midnight Club while slipping through the hospital at night. The other patients are in the library, sharing ghost stories and dubbing themselves the Midnight Club. After Ilonka gains the others’ trust, it becomes clear that the stories being recounted are based on the kids’ real-life experiences and challenges.
At first sight, The Midnight Club may appear to be a more mature and edgy version of Are You Afraid of the Dark due to the late-night atmosphere, the stories based on the storytellers’ personal experiences, and the young protagonists; however, the similarities end there. Even though the protagonists of Midnight Club are younger than those of many of Flanagan’s other works, the series does not lack maturity.
When we are first introduced to the titular trio in the first episode, Natsuki is in the midst of recounting a narrative, but Spencer ends up disputing with her about jump scares, bemoaning that startled is not synonymous with afraid. Through these people and in these moments, Flanagan reveals how he constructs his stories, and aficionados of his past works will be able to pick up on this criticism.
The voices of Flanagan and co-showrunner Leah Fong are ideal for this type of television. While otherworldly powers remain a menace throughout The Midnight Club, it is the ailments that each youngster suffers from and the baggage they each carry that pose the greatest sense of danger and keep the audience engaged. The Midnight Club avoids romanticizing actual disease at a time when many YA novels do so. There are romantic moments, yet the connection between these characters never feels forced or contrived.
This is the reason why the show’s emotional beats are so powerful. Flanagan and Fong examine sexuality, mental illness, and loss with the necessary sensitivity. There have been numerous occasions when other films and television programs have attempted to address these topics, but eventually came across as manipulative and false; this is not the case here.
Another key topic that weaves throughout The Midnight Club is the very human fear of the unknown and what lies beyond death. When exploring the concept of the afterlife, it might be easy to feel preachy in either direction; but, similar to what he did in Midnight Mass, Flanagan is one of the most skilled authors when it comes to writing about faith. Flanagan writes in such a way that these themes are never only black and white. His writing is neither preachy nor alienating. It is reflective, potent, and stays with you long after the conclusion.
The entire cast of The Midnight Club performs admirably, but Ruth Codd’s performance as Anya makes the most impression. Codd paints Anya as closed off and caustic when we first meet her, an adolescent girl with the mouth of a sailor; but, there is more to her than meets the eye. As the series progresses, we gain a deeper understanding of Anya, and Codd pulls it off magnificently.
Iman Benson performs admirably as Ilonka; she is a fantastic fit for a role that, like the series itself, is more than meets the eye.
Even in Ilonka’s worst moments, Benson imbues the character with such humanity that it is impossible not to feel for her. Sandra, the most pious of the kids, is neither mawkish nor one-dimensional; Annarah Cymone portrays her character with empathy and care, and her moments with Chris Sumpter’s Spencer are among the most powerful in the series.
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The Midnight Club’s narrative is not as open and complete as Flanagan’s other series, and given the concepts at play, it would have been more successful and ultimately pleasing if it had seemed more complete. There are some possible avenues a sequel may take, but they are limited; if anyone could pull it off, it would be Flanagan and Fong.
The Midnight Club is yet another powerful and outstanding series from Mike Flanagan and Netflix, with the director exploring both old and unfamiliar territory, and longstanding fans are sure to be thrilled.
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Is It Worthwhile to Attend Midnight Club?
Those looking for a Halloween film with more to offer than blood and gore should definitely give this one a shot.
Is Midnight Club More Terrifying Than Ghost of Hill House?
The Midnight Club delivers on the promise of Mike Flanagan’s earlier works by providing well-written characters, intelligent writing, and a few effective jump scares. For many horror aficionados, The Haunting of Hill House is the most frightening television program.
Does Midnight Club Get Frightening?
According to the news release, the first episode of “The Midnight Club” broke the record for the most planned jump scares in a single television episode. The episode contains twenty-one jump scares.