The Midnight Club SPOILER FREE Series Review: Netflix’s Latest Addition to The Flanaverse of Feels

by Beanie White
The Midnight Club

Mike FLIPPING Flanagan, a man who has made us cringe in fear and weep with grief. A man who has had us collectively yelling: THERE LOOK ANOTHER GHOST, as we scan the backgrounds of his many-layered shots. A guy who tells the most frighteningly human ghost stories and the most beautifully human love stories. Master of modern monologues, champion of woefully underrated actors, a true gift to the horror genre. In a sea of varying levels of quality, Mike Flanagan’s titles ALWAYS soar to the top of my Netflix viewing list. The Midnight Club is his (along with co-creator Leah Fong) latest offering, separate from his more adult content and preceding next year’s heavily anticipated The Fall of the House of Usher.

Adapted from the various works of Christopher Pike, The Midnight Club tells the story of a group of eight terminally ill young adults choosing to live out the end of their lives at the mysterious Brightcliffe hospice run by the passionate yet evasive Dr Georgina Stanton (Heather Langenkamp). Each night, at midnight, the characterful teens meet to “make ghosts” by telling each other spooky stories, but it soon becomes apparent that there is something else going on at Brightcliffe…  

Despite a strong love of YA literature, I tend to steer myself away from teen/YA shows just because they are often permeated by a sense of cringe that I would rather like to leave behind as I embark further into my 20s. However, the pull of Flanagan’s name and the premise of a sort of horror starter pack drew me into this series. What we get here is indeed a beginner’s trip into the horror genre HOWEVER that is not to say that it cannot be enjoyed by those further along in their horror journey. Flanagan uses the stories told by the teens as a vehicle to not only explore their individual personal lives and traumas, but to showcase many different horror tropes and techniques. For example, you might have heard that the very first episode now holds the Guinness World Record for most jump scares in a single episode… But fear not, this is almost satirical in its presentation, clever quips from the teens on lazy storytelling and the value of a good strong singular jump scare (Flanagan is the king of this, Nell in the car from the Haunting of Hill House anyone??) makes for a fantastically fresh take on an introduction to the genre.

These inbuilt stories range in tone and genre, from noir to terminator style sci-fi, from teen slasher to clone-based craziness, Flanagan and Fong pack as many of Christopher Pike’s stories into their adaptation as possible. This is a unique way to flesh out the main characters through horror metaphors and hyperboles, plus it provides the young actors with a LOT to do. Not only do they have a basis in the real-life world of the show, but they also play characters from within the stories. Potentially the stories could be seen to distract from the action occurring within the walls of Brightcliffe hospice. The series is at its absolute best when we see these young characters interacting, whether through deep friendship, falling in love, their shared experience of coming to terms with death, or just simple acts of young rebellion. In terms of fear factor, the stories are also often weaker on the scares with Kevin’s story ‘The Wicked Heart’ providing the most effective terror and brutality through the young serial killer Dusty. Most of the truest and most invasive fear comes from within Brightcliffe itself. Ilonka and Kevin (Iman Benson and Igby Rigney) are both haunted by two aged and decrepit apparitions with “milky eyes,” and the rickety old lift that shudders down to the hidden sacrificial style basement is also extremely jarring, especially when the lift suddenly leaves the teens down in the basement with no escape… There is also some very real human terror, of course the fear and (sometimes) literal shadows that come with the expectation of death, but also a couple of shady human characters that play alongside the younger cast.

EXTREME PROPS must go to the talented young cast of relative newcomers, Flanagan fans will recognise Igby Rigney and Annarah Cymone from Midnight Mass, but otherwise these are actors very early in their careers putting in performances that will shake you to your core. A special mention, for me, must go to William Chris Sumpter as Spencer, a teen facing homophobic behaviour from his religious mother, this also makes the relationship between him and devout Christian Sandra (Annarah Cymone) an interesting boiling point and a lesson in love and understanding. Ruth Codd, a former Tik Tok star known for discussing and normalising her disability, gives an absolutely stunning and disarming first time performance as Anya, a firecracker of a girl, walking the fine lines between anger and love, hope and resignation. Also, Aya Furukawa and Sauriyan Sapkota provide a beautiful little love story whilst pulling us into their individual stories so effortlessly. Of course, it wouldn’t be a Flanaverse special if he didn’t pull in some of his most trusted and wonderful serial-collaborators, the stories told by the young cast provide the perfect excuse to feature wonderful one-off appearances from actors such as Rahul Kohli, Henry Thomas, Alex Essoe, and Michael Trucco. In the real world, Samantha Sloyan gives us the subtle creeps with her portrayal of a neighbour obsessed with the magic of Brightcliffe. We also get a special treat in the form of horror royalty, Heather Langenkamp (best known as final girl Nancy from A Nightmare on Elm Street) playing Dr Stanton.

So yes, this is the perfect horror intro for a teenage audience but look closer and you’ll find a very real exploration of fear and grief, of trust and friendship with a cast of characters that are so easy to fall in love with. Despite their differences in background, these teens pull together to create such a beautiful and believable bond. This, this is what gives the Midnight Club its heart. Can’t have a Flanagan show without heart now can we?           

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