Life, death, and scary stories: The Midnight Club (2022) review
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Life, death, and scary stories: The Midnight Club (2022) review

In the first week of October, my laptop went completely dark. I couldn’t get past that first black screen in the login process. This got me really upset. How dare my computer shut down in October, in the spooky season, the time for us goth kids to revel in all the horror related content that would never get this amount of hype any other time of the year? How would I share with my fellow weirdos my first review of the month without my laptop?

The midnight club, an honest review.

I was furious. But then I remembered the first film I watched in October and for a moment I was actually happy that I wouldn’t have to write about it. Mr. Harrigan’s Phone(2022) is a film about a lonely boy who gives his elderly friend a smartphone. The older man dies and then, after he calls his dead friend’s phone, some other people in the boy’s life die, apparently due to the dead guy’s phone.

That is it, really. I love Stephen King, but this is definitely not his strongest work. Let’s just say the anti-internet thesis is very heavy-handed. The supposed haunted phone plays a very minor role in the film, the main protagonist never really has to fight for anything–he is just kind of there, hanging out while stuff happens. It is a boring, cinematically uninspired movie. There, I said it.

So, when I finally got my laptop back and it was working well as new(ish), I was glad I had the chance to move on to a different piece of horror content. The question was which one? Well, Netflix and its algorithmic personalized notifications really did win the race when they reminded me that Mike Flanagan and Lea Fong’s adaptation of The Midnight Club was available on my page.

Of course, as a kid who grew up in the early 2000s, consuming classics such as the Goosebumps and Fear Street series (both authored by R.L. Stine), The Midnight Club–created by Christopher Pike–was also part of my biweekly selection of books from my school library. So, without a moment’s hesitation, I logged into my Netflix and hit play on the first episode.

Before I go any further, consider this a spoiler alert. I have tried to keep it as mild as possible, avoiding more specific details of episodes and focusing on the broad strokes of the show. However, it is likely that some points will be discussed. Now, to the review!

For those uninitiated, here is a basic overview of the series. A young teen named Ilonka is diagnosed with cancer. She spends a year battling the disease only to reach a terminal state. Tired of the inefficiency of hospitals, she finds a place called Brightcliffe, where young teens with terminal diagnoses go to spend their final days in a more independent and dignified way. Or at least that is what she tells her stepdad.

Soon, we find out that Brightcliffe has a mysterious past, with patients who are miraculously cured and even having housed a cult in the 1930s. Now, Ilonka is trying to discover what it is that mysteriously cured these patients from the same type of cancer she has, all the while telling spooky stories to her friends on Brightcliffe’s infamous Midnight Club.

From the get-go, it is clear why a filmmaker like Mike Flanagan would be interested in adapting a story like The Midnight Club. Along with all the spooks and ghosts that populate the story, at its core, this is a story about a group of people coming to terms with what it means to die, and what that says about living.

These types of themes are recurrent in Flanangan’s filmography, his last two Netflix endeavours–Midnight Mass (2021) and Haunting of Bly Manor (2020)–delve deep into the repercussions of death, religion, and what it means to truly live. This new show feels like a natural continuation of that exploration, with a younger audience in mind, but absolutely just as complex as his previous projects.

This aspect of the show was one of the first things that stood out to me right off the bat. The book series of The Midnight Club has always had this quality of reflection–it was one of the first pieces of literature that made me stay up at night, not because of the scary stories, but because it made me think about death. As a child and pre-teen, I was always terrified of dying. I tried making myself believe I was too young and that it wouldn’t happen to me any time soon.

Then The Midnight Club books came along, crashing that little fantasy of mine, and showed people my age dying, or better, dying faster than most of us. So, it is no surprise that the show takes up a whole scene simply to show the group of teens having a funeral for one of their friends while singing Good Riddance by Green Day (don’t come at me about spoilers–it’s a show about kids in hospice care, come on!).

But do not fear, not only human drama it is made The Midnight Club. As it has been very well reported on, the very first episode of the series was awarded the title of most jump scares in a TV show episode by Guinness World Records. The show does not shy away from the fact that it is a horror-thriller story and the overarching mystery about Brightcliffe’s past and its ghosts keeps the audience on their toes throughout the whole show.

A lot of the suspense comes from Flanagan’s style of directing. There are, of course, the now famous hidden ghosts in the frames, but also, the not-so-hidden ones. The camera slides through hallways with characters, just getting a glimpse of what is maybe the apparition of their late friend. In this show, Flanagan definitely takes a more straightforward way of showing some of the monsters, with recurrent ghosts or nightmare sequences. But sometimes, the camera will just linger on a face, a faint whisper will reach them and, just like the characters, we will question our own sanity.

Of course, the show is not without its flaws. It does suffer a little from pacing issues, especially when the teens go into telling their Midnight Club tales. Initially, the narrative can feel very sudden and take you out of the journey. The fact that you are introduced to new characters and new plots, mid-way through the episode, can be very frustrating. And this is only heightened by the fact that after that bit of meta-storytelling is over, you’ll have to drag yourself back into the main plot.

The midnight club

However, the show finds an ingenious way of decreasing the distance these short stories create between the audience and the show: all the characters in the stories told by the teens are played by the same actors. This way, not only is the audience afforded a previous connection with the actors, but it also helps create more tension between the “real world” characters and those in their stories. After all, are the stories they are telling reflecting who they really are?

As a whole, The Midnight Club is a really fun ride of a show. With characters that we get to connect with, scary monsters to keep us up at night, and even scary reflections about the nature of life and death (this one will keep us up for a lifetime). It is fair to say that I am not the only one who enjoyed the show with talk of a second season already going around. I guess The Midnight Club won’t be dying so soon.