‘The Midnight Club’ review: Mike Flanagan scores again with YA horror full of kills and thrills [A]
Mike Flanagan, creator of The Haunting of Hill House, Bly Manor and Midnight Mass, continues his winning streak with Netflix as his latest delivers the startling scares, atmosphere and psychological tension which we’ve come to expect from the director. Flanagan’s partnership with Netflix is a gift that keeps on giving, he has proven to be a true maestro of the horror genre. The Midnight Club (based on the 1994 novel of the same name as well as other works by Christopher Pike) is just as gripping as his previous works, while exploring a new, young adult-centric side to horror, but not in a traditional Cabin in the Woods-style manner. What is genius about Flanagan and the way he approaches horror is that he always has a singular theme for each show, which is just as important as the scares and the greater mystery. With The Midnight Club, the central theme is terminal illness, it explores how each person deals with the fact that tomorrow could be their last day.
“To those before, to those after. To us now, and to those beyond.” These are the words that the titular Midnight Club, a group of terminally ill teenagers, say every night as they gather to tell scary stories. As well as being an excuse to drink and entertain each other, the group make a sacred pact to promise that whoever dies next will send a sign from beyond the grave. The story begins as Ilonka (Iman Benson), a young teenager, is told the shocking news that she has incurable thyroid cancer. This leads her down a path of endless research, figuring out if there is any chance that she could be cured. Ilonka’s research leads her to discovering Brightcliffe Hospice, a home for terminally ill teenagers, which miraculously, in the past, had a patient walk out of its doors cured. This mysterious, yet hopeful discovery leads Ilonka to convince her stepfather to let her stay there. Everything seems normal as she arrives at Brightcliffe, where she is greeted by an eclectic mix of teenagers with different life-threatening predicaments, but things start to go sour as Ilonka gets deeper into her research about Brightcliffe’s past.
Mike Flanagan has amassed his troupe of extraordinary cinematographers once again; with The Haunting of Bly Manor’s James Kniest shooting most of the episodes, alongside long-time collaborator Michael Fimognari and newcomer Corey Robson for a couple of episodes each. The three cinematographers’ episodes work as a succinct pack, staying constant in style throughout. This is perhaps down to Flanagan’s distinct flair for visuals, as no matter who he works with, all his projects are steeped in the same type of beautiful, yet disturbing imagery. Some of the best moments in The Midnight Club are, naturally, the most disturbing ones; whether it be a sudden shift to an old-fashioned, Shining-style hallway or a ghost standing at the edge of a bed, there are endless amount of psychologically affecting scenes. As a horror director, Flanagan knows exactly how to grip the audience and keep them intrigued about the ongoing mysteries at Brightcliffe. Although his formula isn’t anything new, it stays unique to his style of horror that no one else is doing right now.
The show boasts a fantastic ensemble, most of which are young up-and-coming actors who really prove their talent as performers. Flanagan asks a lot from them, yet they never falter. Leading the ensemble is a miraculous Iman Benson, without whom nothing would work. This is because the central mystery of the show is, primarily but not entirely, guided through her eyes. Backing Benson up is Igby Rigney and William Chris Sumpter, who play Chris and Spencer respectively. They, along with the others who round out the ensemble, never break from Flanagan’s reality, they remain entirely absorbed throughout the show’s 10 episodes.
One aspect of The Midnight Club that must be mentioned is its fascination with storytelling, and the way it shows it. As aforementioned, the group gathers every night, unbeknownst to the workers of Brightcliffe, for a storytelling session. Each episode showcases an individual story from one of the teenagers, all of them are varying and unique in their own way. Some are full of jump scares, others are set in the future and some are told like classic film noirs. This allows for a shift in pace every episode, opening up the doors for Flanagan and his directors to stylise the show as they see fit. It’s a genius storytelling device that is deftly used, while never forgetting its true purpose, the mystery surrounding Brightcliffe and its past patients.
The Midnight Club is chock-full of profoundly horrifying scares, but it also boasts some amazingly rich characters that one comes to fully care for. Flanagan strikes a fine balance. It is everything that audiences have come to expect from a Mike Flanagan project, while also being, arguably, the most endearing of them all. Gripping television doesn’t get better than this, thus, Flanagan’s The Fall of the House of Usher can’t get here any sooner.
Netflix will release the 10-episode first season of The Midnight Club on October 7.
Photo: Eike Schroter/Netflix