The QT

Tuesday 18 June 2024

Boxing Clever – Midnight Mass

Every week, Michael Telfer – aka Mike TV – recommends a box set to crack open. This week’s choice sees a small town swallowed up by a supernatural evil.
Midnight Mass on Netflix
Midnight Mass on Netflix

I’m a pretty big Stephen King fan, and like all pretty big Stephen King fans I’m painfully aware that his books have a patchy record when it comes to transferring to film and TV.

For every Shawshank Redemption there’s a Dreamcatcher and a Cell. For every Green Mile there’s a Firestarter and a Dark Tower. I could go on for some time like this. Hollywood has made two film versions of Pet Sematary, in 1989 and 2019, and they were both dreadful.

King’s vampire book Salem’s Lot has been adapted as a TV miniseries on two occasions, in 1979 and 2004. The first attempt wasn’t bad but the 2004 Rob Lowe vehicle was awful in every possible way.

I would describe this week’s recommendation, the Netflix miniseries Midnight Mass, as the best Stephen King adaptation I’ve seen in every sense apart from one; the great man actually had nothing to do with the story, despite it proudly wearing many of his tropes and hallmarks.

Midnight Mass trailer

The story centres on the tiny community of Crockett Island, cut off from mainland America and with a catholic church at its heart. The first episode deals with the arrivals of two newcomers; a reformed alcoholic returning to his family after serving time for a drink driving-related killing, and the other a mysterious priest looking to fill the sandals of his long-loved predecessor Monsignor Pruitt.

It doesn’t take long before strange things start happening on the sleepy fishing island. A storm washes up hundreds of dead cats on the shore, all seemingly bloodless. A paralysed young girl walks again at the new priest’s behest.

Further miracles follow and the town quickly becomes divided between the growing parish members and a small group of sceptics, such as town doctor Sarah Gunning (Annabeth Gish) and Muslim Sheriff Hassan (Rahul Kohli).

Crockett Isalnd’s charismatic new priest Paul Hill, played by Hamish Linklater

The charming and enigmatic priest Paul Hill is played brilliantly by Hamish Linklater, and his one to one AA meetings with parolee Riley Flynn (Zach Gilford) are particularly compelling as the two men spar with each other and dance around the growing realisation that Father Paul is harbouring a dark secret.

Riley looks to rekindle his old relationship with schoolteacher Erin Greene (Kate Siegel) but any hopes of romance are overtaken by the supernatural events that threaten to consume the whole town.

Erin Greene (Kate Siegel) and Riley Flynn (Zach Gilford) get reacquainted

The series chews its way through the seven episodes with a feverish bloodlust, and while it could possibly be argued the climactic episodes feature one monologue too many they barely detract from the biblical denouement.

Like most good horror stories, Midnight Mass is really about people rather than Vampires. As the town becomes split down the middle, old scores and grievances surface violently and abruptly and facades quickly slip at the first opportunity.

Mayor Scarborough (Michael Trucco) challenges Sheriff Hassan (Rahul Kohli)

Midnight Mass is one of those rare Netflix shows that knows when to stop. At seven episodes there is plenty to get your teeth into, but it never loses pace or feels bloated. I rattled through it in a few days and thoroughly enjoyed it.

What next?

If you enjoyed Midnight Mass you should try out the following box sets:

The Mist (Netflix)

The Mist is a 1980 Stephen King novella which was adapted for film in 2007 and then again for this TV series in 2017.

A mysterious mist rolls over the town of Bridgeville, Maine and is found to be harbouring all manner of murderous beasts and anomalies. The survivors find themselves trapped in a shopping mall, a church, and a hospital as they try to work out how to survive both the creatures outside and each other.

The show did away with the brutal original ending in favour of a cliff hanger, but by the time the final episode aired The Mist had already been cancelled after a steep fall in ratings after the initial episodes.

Salem’s Lot (Now TV)

At only two episodes this is the very definition of a miniseries, but the 1979 adaptation of King’s vampire novel has aged surprisingly well.

The story follows an author who returns to his hometown and realises the inhabitants are turning into vampires. Unsurprisingly, he finds it very difficult to convince many people that this is the case.

The scene where young victim Ralphie Glick returns to his home as a vampire and convinces his brother Danny to let him into his bedroom is every bit as haunting on screen as it is on the page, and lives particularly long in the memory.

The Strain (Disney Plus)

The Strain follows the outbreak of a plague in New York City which turns swathes of the population into nocturnal, blood-sucking creatures. Yes ok, vampires again.
Trying to stop the plague and bring down the mysterious Master are a small band of allies that unite around a wizened pawnbroker and holocaust survivor played by David Bradley, possibly better known for playing Filch in the Harry Potter films.
It’s not the most cerebral show ever made, but it keeps you guessing as it zips through its four seasons and provides a new take on an old story.

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