From visceral, soul-stirring monologues to fleeting visuals terrifying enough to make ones blood run cold, the new generation’s king of horror, Mike Flanagan, is back once again. He’s brought us films like Oculus and Doctor Sleep as well as limited series including The Haunting of Hill House, The Haunting of Bly Manor, and Midnight Mass. This time though Flanagan and fellow writer Leah Fong bring us The Midnight Club, an episodic adaptation of Christopher Pike’s infamous novellas and novels.
The Midnight Club boasts quite the ensemble cast, starring familiar faces such as Igby Rigney, Annarah Cymone, Zach Gilford, Samantha Sloyan, Rahul Kohli, and Matt Biedel along with blink-and-you’ll-miss-it cameos from Kate Siegel, Carla Gugino, and Hamish Linklater. There are also some fresh faces that the series introduces to the Flanaverse including William Chris Sumpter, Ruth Codd, Adia, Aya Furukawa, Sauriyan Sapkota, Iman Benson, and Heather Langenkamp. The talent involved doesn’t end with the cast as the writing involves Jamie Flanagan and the directing is shared between the infamous Axelle Carolyn as well as Mike Flanagan himself with a few other talented individuals sharing the helm.
The story is set in 1994, the same year Pike’s novel was released. It begins by following a college-ready girl, Ilonka, as she navigates the exciting and confusing world of being a young adult, even attending her first house party. The normalcy doesn’t last long though, for Ilonka experiences a health emergency and she is soon diagnosed with terminal thyroid cancer. After some determined and exhaustive research though, Ilonka discovers a Brightcliffe Hospice — a place for terminal teens like herself and convinces her guardian that this is the best place for her to be.
She arrives and immediately begins to meet other residents of the home like the soft-spoken and charming Kevin, the crass but amusing Anya, and the welcoming Spencer, Amesh, and Natsuki to name just a few. Things seem to be going relatively mundane until it’s discovered the inhabitants routinely sneak out of their rooms every night at midnight to gather in the library in front of a crackling fire. They call this “The Midnight Club” and it’s a tradition passed down from previous residents — those who have come and gone before them, to gather every night at midnight and “make ghosts” or tell stories to one another. The group also has a pact: once a member inevitably passes away, they must send a sign from the afterlife to prove to the living there is something beyond.
Thus begins Ilonka’s formal introduction to the club, with members taking turns every episode telling stories —based off of Christopher Pike’s novels — to each other, each tale telling us a bit more about each character, their past, and who they are as a person. The stories range from amusing to deeply disturbing and heart-wrenchingly emotional. These retellings invoke a sense of charming nostalgia à la Pike, yet have a signature Flanagan feel to them as well, making each character’s “ghost making” unique, memorable, and ultimately profound.
Mike Flanagan has always been a master at using horror as a vessel to speak about deeply human experiences such as grief, loss, mental health, addiction, familial issues, and faith. The Midnight Club may be the most “young adult” of his works, but it doesn’t slack for a moment in being a powerful and engrossing watch. The characters involved are mostly terminally ill teens, who spend much of their time discussing their eventual, nearing deaths and coming to terms with their own looming mortality. The show devotes careful time to discourse regarding acceptance, regret, and depression, even authentically tackling characters experiencing racism and homophobia in the 90s setting.
The show is gorgeously shot, highlighting the characters and the beautiful manor they reside with tasteful low-light settings around a dancing fire or stunning saturated scenes of someone trekking through a lush, green forest. The performances from the entire ensemble are compelling and genuine, and it’s quite easy to care for every individual as more and more layers are peeled back from each resident, revealing their true personas and darkest-held fears. With impressive directing and adaptations written with the utmost care and regard to the source material, it’s clear an immensely passionate team of talented people gave their all to bring this series to life.
The Midnight Club is Mike Flanagan’s newest Netflix addition and is surely worthy of attention and multiple binge-watches. With topics of the utmost importance covered, the show is brimming with eloquent human conversations amongst beautiful characters that an audience will be pleased to have been introduced to. Once again, Flanagan and his team use classic horror as a conduit to present and face very real, innately terrifying, and relatable things that simply come with the human experience. With autumn upon us, it’s the most perfectly splendid time to settle down with a cup of something hot and hit ‘play’ on this newest Flanagan series. And once finished, there are plenty more of his creations out there to indulge in and find yourself engrossed in this cozy season, as his works exude terror yet comfort in the most peculiar, beautiful way.