Following the monumental success of “Midnight Mass” and “The Haunting of Hill House,” Mike Flanagan returned with the debut of his latest project on Oct. 7 — “The Midnight Club,” an adaptation of the Christopher Pike novel by the same name. While “The Midnight Club” initially intrigues with a horror narrative following a cast of terminally ill patients, it unfortunately fumbles and falls flat compared to Flanagan’s previous works.
“The Midnight Club” follows Ilonka (Iman Benson), a teenager who enrolls at Brightcliffe Hospice after fruitless treatment for her thyroid cancer. As she immerses herself into a group of eclectic, terminally ill patients and joins in on their midnight horror story sessions, Ilonka’s pursuit of an unorthodox cure leads her headfirst into the mysteries of Brightcliffe. With emerging details of a mysterious medical miracle and the hospice’s previous function as the home of a cult, the group grapples with their mortality as they discover the haunting truth of the hospice.
While the overarching narrative of the series is certainly fascinating, “The Midnight Club” is hardly able to handle so many narrative threads at once. The series fails to juggle the horror stories presented by each patient, the background of its characters and the mystery of the hospice. With its attention so scattered, “The Midnight Club” ends up more aimless than anything else.
The series’ promise of horror even falls short. Despite holding the world record for the most jumpscares in a single episode, there is hardly a moment in the series that could be described as scary. “The Midnight Club” fails to produce tension; every fright and jumpscare feels more like walking through a Spirit Halloween than inducing any palpable fear or anxiety. Even while giving leniency and recognizing that much of the horror is driven by the stories told by the teenage patients, the series fundamentally fails to live up to its classification as horror.
That isn’t to say that “The Midnight Club” is wholeheartedly a failure — it finds success in other realms. While it fails to live up to its advertisement as a horror series, it truly thrives when its focus shifts to the mystery haunting the hospice. When Ilonka and the other patients are hunting for the truth behind the medical miracle of Julia Jayne (Larsen Thompson) and what transpired during the cult’s final moments, the series picks up and seems to make sense of itself.
As the show dives into the mysteries of the hospice, a compelling recurring theme — the clash between the scientific, the fantastical and the natural approach to life — emerges time and time again. Whether it’s through the enigmatic Dr. Georgina Stanton (Heather Langenkamp) reinforcing science as the true means to address illness, the devoutly Christian Sandra (Annarah Cymone) inviting others to her faith or the persistent Ilonka pursuing a cure through natural remedies, the show deftly explores the different avenues people pursue in the face of their mortality.
The desire to change fate and escape death no matter the means is an incredibly enriching and engrossing theme explored throughout the narrative and its many characters — one of the few redeeming factors of an otherwise average series.
Additionally, the patients of Brightcliffe shine when the narrative finally focuses on them one at a time, as opposed to scrambling to expand on all of them at once. The strongest episode of the series, “Anya,” focuses wholeheartedly on the story of Anya (Ruth Codd), Ilonka’s charismatic, no-nonsense roommate. “The Midnight Club” flourishes as it delves into the backstory and desires of its wittiest character and creates its most moving episode yet. One could only wish more of its episodes mirrored the emotional depth of “Anya.”
Unfortunately, the lack of direction in “The Midnight Club” leaves the first season feeling unbalanced and, ultimately, unfulfilling as it becomes unclear whether its multiple plot points have been adequately addressed or not. By the end, the viewer feels just as disoriented as some of the characters do.
While its subsequent seasons may make up for its debut, the first season of “The Midnight Club” is astonishingly lackluster for such an appealing premise. It may be worthy enough to watch through once, but it’s certainly not a series anyone will rewatch.