Shot By Shot with the ‘Midnight Mass’ Trailer

Mike Flanagan returns to Netflix with another haunting saga featuring a strong Stephen King influence, if not a direct reference.
Midnight Mass Trailer Shot By Shot

Welcome to Shot by Shot, our ongoing series of movie and TV trailer breakdowns. We’re constantly scouring for perfect shots, and in this column, we share our favorites and discuss them. In this entry, we wander into the creepy evil that is the Midnight Mass trailer.

Something’s amiss on Crockett Island. Mike Flanagan has strolled into the sleepy ‘burb, and he’s bringing his demonic imagination with him. Midnight Mass is his latest Netflix series, and while it’s not supposed to connect to his previous shows in any way, the new trailer suggests the filmmaker is still thriving on hamlet horrors.

Zack Gilford plays a disgraced former resident returning home and coming face-to-face with Hamish Linklater‘s charming new priest. A series of bizarre events ripple through the community, causing many to see miracles where devils reside. It’s neighbor versus neighbor as righteous stands are chosen.

Flanagan stated on Twitter that, as a former altar boy,  Midnight Mass is a deeply personal work and ranks as one of his favorite creations. Considering the previous two seasons, not to mention his Stephen King adaptations (Doctor Sleep and Geralds Game), taking Flanagan at his word comes easy. Midnight Mass is immediately one of our most anticipated shows of the Fall.

Okay, yeah. There are plenty of creepy, familiar hallmarks in the Midnight Mass trailer. Let’s cut this thing up and go shot by shot. Maybe we can pull a little more information from these gorgeously rich frames.

Everything we need to know about Midnight Mass is right here in this shot. Neighbor versus neighbor? No. It’s Gilford versus Linklater.

The core battle between devil and human is a classic one. And yes, it goes back a long way, but it’s also a narrative deeply rooted in Stephen King’s stories, and knowing Flanagan’s association with King, it’s easy to see why he would go here. Midnight Mass promises to find a place on the same shelf alongside The Stand, Needful Things, and “The Man in the Black Suit.”

You do have to wonder about that third chair between them. Who is meant to sit there? Who is missing from the party? God? Doesn’t He always feel so far away when you’re at your lowest? Unless you make a practice of speaking to him daily. Gilford best get to praying. He’s going to need some faithful reconnection.

Not only is Flanagan set to direct all seven episodes, but cinematographer Michael Fimognari will also shoot each one. He skipped out on The Haunting of Bly Manor, but he lensed The Haunting of Hill House, Doctor Sleep, and Geralds Game (also Fast Color and the To All the Boys trilogy!)

Fimognari languishes in the gloom, and shots like this one, featuring seagulls pecking upon numerous dead cats on the beach, seem soaked in dread. There’s a fog of doom on Crockett Island, and it’s placed there by Fimognari.

Gilford attempts sleep, but a ghostly figure stands in his bedroom. Is she spirit, memory, something else? Through her cracked face, we witness static flickering beneath.

Gilford doesn’t react, merely stares. His character returned to Crockett Island for a reason. We hear him explain to Linklater’s priest, “That wasn’t an act of God.” No?

When you’re running from something horrible, you tend to retreat to the familiar, the comfortable. There’s a sin sitting on Gilford’s chest, and a wretched priest could make quite a meal from it.

Linklater attempts to assure Gilford that misunderstanding the universe does not mean it lacks reason or purpose. “Why” is a distraction. But the question burns in Gilford, and the weirdness around Crockett Island is starting to scream.

Outside his window, another ghostly figure roams. Gilford can’t let them be; he must chase after. In the tradition of Stephen King heroes, Gilford chasing that nagging notion in his gut will cause a champion of Good (with a capital G) to rise. Unless Flanagan is going the other direction, seeking nihilism. Something he tends to avoid in his stories.

Linklater’s “Why” repeats over the next several shots, including this one. It’s one of the few occurrences of blood in the trailer—someone looking down in their sink, the red stuff splattering from their face. Again, we’ve got questions regarding its origin. Disease? Possession? A little from column A and a little from column B?

We see Linklater explode to life, and you can catch some bit of ooze, or blood, sucking back into his mouth. This jump startles Samantha Sloyan, but it won’t send her running to the hills. The cross on her neck indicates that she’s a true believer; she’s committed. She’ll stand by her man.

If Linklater is Flanagan’s Randall Flagg, a desperate flock will surround him. As dangerous as he is to Gilford, these followers may prove to be the most challenging. Neighbors who proclaim to know the answer to “Why” are usually dangerous.

And with Midnight Mass treading into the realm of devils, it’s easy to add a Rosemarys Baby situationAnnabeth Gish slowly recoils at the news delivered by the ultrasound. She sees something that should not be, as the trailer sparks a baby’s screech over Linklater’s repeating, pulsating, “Why.”

“Who are you?”

“You know who I am.”

So, final question: what is a midnight mass? Traditionally, the midnight mass is the first liturgy held on Christmas Eve, beginning at midnight, moving into Christmas Day. In popular culture, black masses are parties for Satanists. They take the Catholic celebration and invert it, hoping to mock Christian values and rituals. In movies, it’s a mass that generally climaxes with the appearance of old scratch, Mr. Devil.

The Midnight Mass trailer concluding with Linklater answering Gilford’s question without answering it strongly implies a Satanic arrival. This big bad is the father of all big bads. Midnight Mass appears less of a haunting and more of a royal rumble between Good and Evil. Bring it.

Watch the war play out as Midnight Mass arrives on Netflix on September 24th.

Brad Gullickson: Brad Gullickson is a Weekly Columnist for Film School Rejects and Senior Curator for One Perfect Shot. When not rambling about movies here, he's rambling about comics as the co-host of Comic Book Couples Counseling. Hunt him down on Twitter: @MouthDork. (He/Him)