The first time Mike Flanagan attempted to adapt Christopher Pike’s young adult novel The Midnight Club, Pike’s publisher sent Flanagan a cease and desist letter. Now, after carving out a career of “prestigious horror” deals, from the critically acclaimeda — the director has finally earned the opportunity to accept Pike’s material.
The Midnight Club, a 10-episode first season streaming on Netflix, looks and feels like a chapter from the Flanaverse. However, it has all the makings of a young adult fantasy. It is populated by ghosts, witches, zombies, cyborgs, aliens and more. His elevator pitch: The Fault in Our Stars meets Are You Afraid of the Dark?
But The Midnight Club is much more disturbing than it seems. A serial killer, a cult, and musings on mortality elevate The Midnight Club to a more sophisticated realm. At its core, The Midnight Club is a moving portrait of those processing their impending death, when their lives have only just begun.
The Midnight Club itself is the name of a gathering between terminally ill teenage patients at Brightcliffe Hospice. These patients, Sandra (Annarah Cymone), Anya (Ruth Codd), Spence (Chris Sumpter), Natsuki (Aya Furukawa), Kevin (Igby Rigney), Cheri (Adia), and Amesh (Sauriyan Sapkota), infiltrate the library. at night to tell each other ghost stories. Taken from other Pike novels and staged as mini-movies, these fantastical stories reflect reality more than you think. They allow patients, faced with their mortality, to leave something behind when they leave.
Newcomer to these ancient halls is Ilonka (Iman Benson). Once a prospective Stanford student, Ilonka’s future fades with the ringing in his ears when he receives a shocking diagnosis from a doctor. With her fiercely bright and curious mind, Ilonka is the perfect investigator for the strange goings-on at Brightcliffe. In addition to a “possessed” elevator and a spooky ghost named Cataract Woman, a mystery about a possible cure drives the main story.
Like The Haunting of Bly Manor, set in the 1980s, The Midnight Club is a period piece. Set in the ’90s, it drops era-specific alternative/indie songs over the credits. An eerie glow shines on the characters that bookmark the Internet on their computers. In stark contrast, Brightcliffe breathes the 20th century. The design of this haunted house is painstaking. The circular occult symbols apparently recur in the stained glass windows and arched hallways, or is that just a charming coincidence?
Similar to Midnight Mass, The Midnight Club hangs a truth from its impossible elements, so that its main characters might think a magical cure is real. With characters so close to death, any escape, no matter how fantastic, is worth exploring.
In sensitive discussions, other figures, like the mysterious Dr. Georgina Stanton, played by scream queen Heather Langenkamp from A Nightmare on Elm Street, advocate embracing death and appreciating life. Others seek to prolong life through less established means, like the hippy-esque Shasta, played by an ever-magnetic Samantha Sloyan. Along with Rahul Kohli and Zach Gilford, Sloyan is one of Flanagan’s regular acting crew to help tell his latest story.
Inevitably, some of the ghost stories are more exciting, moving, and harrowing than others, but they all fit surprisingly well into the episodic mini-movie framework. It’s a 10-episode climax, the same length as The Haunting of Hill House, that doesn’t necessarily pay off in a chest-pounding way, a side effect of setting up the series for more to come.
Still, as a whole, Season 1 is immense. It may not be the same personal tour de force exposition on faith as Midnight Mass, but The Midnight Club does echo a compelling meditation on faith and its ability to heal. Co-created with Bly Manor writer-producer Leah Fong, The Midnight Club is a thoughtful and stylish portrayal of teenagers coming to terms with terminal illness and death. It deals with other serious areas (self-harm, sex, alcohol and drugs), but the tragedy is not the defining factor. All the Brightcliffe kids have a sense of humor. With compassion connecting them, love is the prevailing force no matter how dark the halls become.
Sick heroes face imminent death in Mike Flanagan’s version of young adult horror. The Midnight Club is a unique and absorbing dissection of the power of belief, which goes far beyond the realm of normal teen food.
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