Title: The Midnight Club (Netflix 2022) Creators: Mike Flanagan, Leah Fong Stars: Samantha Sloyan, Zach Gilford, Igby Rigney, Sauriyan Sapkota, Adia, Ruth Codd, Aya Furukawa, Annarah Cymone, William Chris Sumpter, Iman Benson, Larsen Thompson, Rahul Kholi
It is midnight, and a group of teenagers sits around a large table in an old library. They come here each night at the same time, and after toasting to friends gone but not forgotten, they tell each other stories. Myths and fairy tales. Love and hatred. Crime. Science fiction and fantasy. And the library, that’s in a hospice, and each and every one of these kids is dying.
The hospice is in a house for the terminally ill; it’s mostly cancer that is killing these kids, and they all know it. And sitting around that library table, telling stories in front of the crackling fireplace, they make each other a promise. If there is an afterlife, the first one of them to die will try to communicate from the other side – to show the others that there is either nothing to fear or oblivion that awaits them.
The Midnight Club is Mike Flanagan’s newest entry in what has unofficially become known as “Flanaverse”. Together with the American filmmaker’s other Netflix series, The Haunting of Hill House, The Haunting of Bly Manor and the excellent Midnight Mass (reviewed here), The Midnight Club is another spooky story populated with deeply evolved characters that are easy to care for and a central mystery – of sorts.
The Midnight Club is part ghost story and part anthology. As the terminally ill teenagers meet each midnight, the stories they tell become episodes within episodes, so to speak. The genres vary wildly. Kevin (played by Igby Rigney) tells his multi-part story about the haunted hammer-wielding serial killer. Amesh (played by Sauriyan Sapkota) tells the story of the wannabe game developer who would destroy the world (also starring the excellent Flanaverse-regular Rahul Kholi). Spencer (played by William Chris Sumpter) tells of robots and future-revealing VHS cassettes.
When not in the more or less fictive world of the teenagers’ stories, we follow Ilonka (played by Iman Benson) and her investigations into the hospice manor’s mysterious past. Here we also meet the forest-dwelling New Ager Shasta (played by Samantha Sloyan), who leads a small commune of women out in the nearby woods.
Watching The Midnight Club, I was surprised by the themes and subject matter in the various stories. The show is set in the mid-90s, and various diseases and the inevitability of death are discussed at length. Weakness and disease, and the acceptance that the teenagers will die from it, and soon, is an ever-present topic in each of these stories, which functions as a way for each of them to process and accept their fates. And for the most part, these stories got to me, thanks to some excellent performances by the young actors.
Much like Mike Flanagan’s other shows, faith is also a central theme. And like in these other stories, there are opposite views, represented by two of the teenagers in this case. For if God is just, why then are these teenagers dying of cancer and AIDS? The Midnight Club never proselytizes for one side or the other but instead asks questions for the viewer to ponder if they so choose.
But going into a Mike Flanagan series, I was also hoping for a scare or two, and sadly, The Midnight Club is lacking in this department. And in a way, I think that’s even the point, as the show goes very meta at one point to explain the difference between being startled (for example, a loud sound making you jump in your chair) and being scared for real. But what I wasn’t sure about was the point Mike Flanagan was trying to make here, as the show then goes on to do exactly one thing with its horror elements for the rest of the season; it startles you – it never really scares you (unless you’re easily scared, that is). In fact, watching this, you could be forgiven for feeling that the supernatural elements were tacked on like an afterthought. Despite what the trailer wants you to think, there are very few real scares to be found here. And after seeing last year’s The Midnight Mass, I expected more.