Mike Flanagan's compassion for the dying and deceased is a recurring theme in The Midnight Club
Below is a spoiler-free review for The Midnight Club, which will release on Netflix Oct. 7.
Mike Flanagan has developed a body of work for Netflix that has left fans chilled to their bones year after year. Since his first series for the streaming platform, The Haunting of Hill House, the writer and director has proven his understanding of emotional gut punches and nuanced storytelling that have left all of us on the edge of our seats waiting for more. The Midnight Club doesn’t live up to his former efforts in nuance or overall narrative quality, but it’s not without its merits.
As is the case with much of Flanagan’s work, there’s not a bad performance in the bunch. William Chris Sumpter leads the pack with his performance as Spencer, but the rest of the young cast all understood their respective assignments. Of course, it wouldn’t be a Mike Flanagan series without the Flanafam, and Samantha Sloyan (of Flanagan’s Hush and Midnight Mass) slays as always. Other familiar faces from Flanagan’s work do pop up throughout the series, but we’ll save those surprises.
Plot-wise, The Midnight Club doesn’t have the same kind of intricate storytelling as predecessors like Hill House and Midnight Mass, but that hangup can be attributed to it being a different kind of series at first. As the show reaches its climax, though, it becomes obvious that the storytelling woes extend beyond the differences in narrative structure.
The closer the series gets to the end, the more those stories start to feel like a chore.
The anthological format of the stories told in the titular Midnight Club starts strong. Each is engaging and gives us a glimpse of what each respective character is experiencing beyond what they let on to their friends. But the closer the series gets to the end, the more those stories start to feel like a chore. The final episode rings this bell the hardest, with much of its runtime existing outside of the present space that the members of the Midnight Club are occupying. The individual stories told in prior episodes work out because they're not taking away from the story unfolding in the present, they're adding to it. However, the finale uses the conclusion of Kevin (Igby Rigney) and Ilanka's (Iman Benson) individual tales as a crutch rather than giving the series any real ending that answers any of the series’ remaining questions.
When The Midnight Club shines, it shines bright, which is perhaps what makes its finale and lingering runtime so frustrating. The story gives the terminally ill children all the agency that they deserve, treating them with dignity while actively calling out the stigmas of aids, how the able bodied treat the sick and dying, and Christianity’s use of death as a cheap recruitment tool. It acknowledges how much terminal diagnoses can force a young adult to grow, and allows them to throw the well-deserved tantrum when the need arises. The devastation of loss and the decision to live in spite of it all are displayed with the kind of care that Flanagan has always excelled in. It’s the ghosts that make it all fall apart in the end.
Dying children are a difficult subject to tackle and, luckily, that’s the only part of The Midnight Club that hits the way you’d hope. The care for these characters is ever-present, but the narrative that’s meant to act as the series’ foundation doesn’t give that care or the strong cast the support they need. It’s a real bummer!
Amelia is the entertainment Streaming Editor here at IGN. She's also a film and television critic who spends too much time talking about dinosaurs, superheroes, and folk horror. You can usually find her with her dog, Rogers. There may be cheeseburgers involved. Follow her across social @ThatWitchMia