SPOILER ALERT FOR SEASON 1 OF THE MIDNIGHT CLUB
Over the last decade it’s safe to say that Mike Flanagan has been the premier mind in the horror game. In fact, you could make an argument that nobody has been better in one specific genre during that time. Since 2013, Flanagan has directed six feature films and been the showrunner on four series, often taking the bulk of the writing and directing duties. Not to mention, he rarely misses.
Following up on last year’s sensational Midnight Mass was always going to be a tough act to follow. When The Midnight Club was first announced I didn’t think much of it. On paper the premise doesn’t sound too crazy or interesting but with Flanagan at the helm I had nothing but confidence. The show follows a group of terminally ill teenagers in a hospice home. Every night the group meets in the library to tell ghost stories but as the story unfolds we discover they may be living in a ghost story of their own. While not as binge-worthy or creepy as something like The Haunting of Hill House or Midnight Mass, The Midnight Club is engaging enough to keep watching though never approaches the greatness of its predecessors.
For me it’s tough to pinpoint where the show goes wrong. It uses many of the same tropes that highlights Flanagan’s other work: lengthy monologues, misunderstood ghosts, trauma and mental health issues wrapped up in spooky metaphors, the kid from E.T, just about everything you’d expect when you order The Flanagan Special. But it’s missing something. Is the writing weaker than what we’ve come to expect? Is the cast of younger actors a step down from some of the amazing performances we’ve grown accustomed to? Is the premise just…boring? The answer probably pulls from all these and more.
One of the biggest issues I had with the show was the members of The Midnight Club. Each kid has their own redeeming qualities however each and every member of the club uses Aaron Sorkin-like snappy dialogue and each member seems smarter than the other. Despite the fact that they’re all teenagers, none of them actually feel like a teenager. I’d bet this was a conscious choice by Flanagan and the writers because what they’re going through has forced them all to grow up. I get it but it becomes difficult to tell who was miscast and who just stinks. One positive though is that the show’s main character, Ilonka (Iman Benson), is without a doubt the most annoying character. While she serves as the narrator and the viewer’s guide to both The Midnight Club and the house, her constant pressing and over-the-top speeches are pure eyeroll fuel. Again, I can’t tell if Ilonka is poorly written or if Benson struggles with the role. The rest of the cast suffers from similar issues.
Part of the formula for the show consists of us seeing the stories told during The Midnight Club sessions almost as short films within the episodes. Personally I felt this is where the show was at its best as I often found these stories, typically drawing inspiration from each narrator’s personal backgrounds, more interesting than what was going on inside the house. Highlights include Kevin (Igby Rigney, seriously that’s his real name) tells a story of a teenage serial killer that featured some of that Flanagan haunting we’ve come to love, Spencer (William Curtis Sumpter) has a story about a VCR that can record the future that leads to a Terminator-esque sci-fi mystery, Anya (Ruth Codd) tells a tale of a perfect girl who makes a deal with the devil to be in two places at once. Some of these are pretty rough though, including Sandra’s (Annarah Cymone) cringey film-noir mystery with kids playing cops and Natsuki (Aya Furukawa) telling a tale of picking up the worst pair of hitchhikers in history: Freedom Jack (Henry Thomas) and Poppy Corn (Alex Essoe). Seriously, that episode has gotten the most praise from fans but the unsubtleness of the story itself almost made me lost all interest in the show.
But the worst moment of the show is without a doubt the funeral for Anya. Let me set the scene: after Anya succumbs to her illness following a blood ritual led by Ilonka and the other kids (I know) the group spreads her ashes in a nearby lake at midnight. After spreading them, Cheri (Adia) breaks out her cello and begins a rendition of “Good Riddance” by Green Day. She attempts to sing the words though what comes out equates to what I would describe as “soft yelling”. As if this moment wasn’t already hard enough to get through, then the whole group joins in an sings along with her. My jaw was on the floor at the thought that Mike Flanagan, one of the best writer/directors working today, signed off on this idea.
Flanagan has earned the right to try whatever he wants on TV. I’ll watch just about anything with his name on it. If there’s a season two of this show, which the end of season one sets up, I would probably watch it out of curiosity and faith that Flanagan can turn it around. However, this season had the feel of a young adult series with writing that far exceeded the talents of its cast. Now that the show does seem to have a tangible antagonist in Shasta (recurring Flanaverse actress Samantha Sloyan) I’d be curious how those inside the house move forward. That being said, this season isn’t one I’d say is necessary viewing but for fans of Flanagan’s previous work you may find some redeeming features.
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