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The Midnight Club review – a nod to the era of Nineties adolescent horror

The Midnight Club review – a nod to the era of Nineties adolescent horror
The Midnight Club. (L to R) Igby Rigney as Kevin, Annarah Cymone as Sandra, Adia as Cheri, Iman Benson as Ilonka, Ruth Codd as Anya, Chris Sumpter as Spencer, Sauriyan Sapkota as Amesh in episode 107 of The Midnight Club. Cr. Eike Schroter/Netflix © 2022

Filmmaker Mike Flanagan’s signature slow-burn, character-centric style of horror is successfully applied to the work of YA novelist Christopher Pike, treating a terminal teens tale with a maturity that audiences of all ages should appreciate.

The latest entry into what is unofficially called The Flanagan-verse – a body of work by showrunner Mike Flanagan – The Midnight Club is definitely the most teen-friendly thus far. This isn’t to say it’s toothless or declawed; it certainly is still very creepy, in the signature slow-burn Flanagan style.

In the same vein as Netflix’s Fear Street trilogy, The Midnight Club is another nod to the era of Nineties adolescent horror, this time revisiting the books of author Christopher Pike instead of R.L. Stine. Mainly based on the 1994 novel of the same name, The Midnight Club also brings in Pike’s other works in short-story format.

Set in the mid-1990s, at Brightcliffe Manor, a hospice for terminally ill young adults, eight patients come together every night at midnight to tell each other stories — and make a pact that the next of them to die will give the group a sign from the beyond. The new girl to the club is brilliant young Ilonka (Iman Benson), diagnosed with terminal thyroid cancer only months before heading off to an Ivy League University. She’s drawn to the imposing Brightcliffe for many reasons, including the possibility that among its many secrets is a possible cure for her illness.

As a series, the 10-episode The Midnight Club has a somewhat unusual structure. There’s the overarching narrative, which follows Brightcliffe’s patients as they deal with the physical and emotional toll that comes with dying, as well as the unnerving happenings around the manor house. Then there’s the show’s embedded anthology side, where Pike’s other stories are introduced as the tales the club tell each other every night.

It’s debatable if this format works well and it certainly feels inconsistently successful. While the story-within-a-story approach is novel, sometimes you just want to carry on with unravelling the main mystery; instead, you must sit through another detached tale, some of which are more engrossing and memorable than others, before getting back to the heart of the series. The overarching mystery of The Midnight Club falls somewhere between intriguing and captivating, depending on how invested you are in it, but you’ll most likely find it more on the gripping side. It’s certainly well used in generating cliffhanger endings for each episode.

Aya Furukawa as School Girl in 'The Midnight Club'. Image: Eike Schroter / Netflix

Aya Furukawa as School Girl in ‘The Midnight Club’. Image: Eike Schroter / Netflix

Igby Rigney as Kevin, Iman Benson as Ilonka in 'The Midnight Club'. Image: Eike Schroter / Netflix

Igby Rigney as Kevin and Iman Benson as Ilonka in ‘The Midnight Club’. Image: Eike Schroter / Netflix

The Midnight Club. (L to R) Iman Benson as Ilonka, Ruth Codd as Anya, Igby Rigney as Kevin in episode 105 of The Midnight Club. Cr. Eike Schroter/Netflix © 2022

Iman Benson as Ilonka, Ruth Codd as Anya and Igby Rigney as Kevin in ‘The Midnight Club’. Image: Eike Schroter / Netflix

Returning to matters of heart, as is typical for Flanagan’s work, The Midnight Club is very character-centric. The series spends a lot of time delving into this anxiety-plagued collective of young people and fleshing them out, aided by credible performances from the young actors (special shout-out to TikTok star turned actress Ruth Codd). 

If you’re “joining the Club” based on Flanagan’s name alone, a lot of his signature touches are present. There’s a strong appreciation of literature, thoughtful LGBTQ+ representation, and multiple returning cast members – many of whom will be recognisable from last year’s Midnight Mass. Also present is Mass’s heady, but not as verbose this time, discussions around mortality and the process of dying.

Much like Yellowjackets, which also takes place in the Nineties (at least partially), The Midnight Club comes with a banging retro soundtrack, featuring the likes of Collective Soul, Blind Melon and Soundgarden. Yet, the yesteryear setting for the series doesn’t feel in any way gimmicky and there’s no reliance on nostalgia for an emotional reaction. The period only really shows through in the fashion choices and on-screen technology, like landlines, and feels more like a tribute to the series source material than anything else.

The Midnight Club. (L to R) Chris Sumpter as Spencer, Heather Langenkamp as Dr. Georgia Stanton, Aya Furukawa as Natsuki in episode 106 of The Midnight Club. Cr. Eike Schroter/Netflix © 2022

Chris Sumpter as Spencer, Heather Langenkamp as Dr. Georgia Stanton and Aya Furukawa as Natsuki in ‘The Midnight Club’. Image: Eike Schroter / Netflix

The Midnight Club. (L to R) Ruth Codd as Anya, Iman Benson as Ilonka in episode 103 of The Midnight Club. Cr. Eike Schroter/Netflix © 2022

Ruth Codd as Anya and Iman Benson as Ilonka in ‘The Midnight Club’. Image: Eike Schroter / Netflix

The Midnight Club. Heather Langenkamp as Dr. Georgia Stanton in episode 110 of The Midnight Club. Cr. Eike Schroter/Netflix © 2022

Heather Langenkamp as Dr. Georgia Stanton in ‘The Midnight Club’. Image: Eike Schroter / Netflix

The Midnight Club is very teen-centred, and given the amount of teen content Netflix produces, you may be wondering how enjoyable the series is for audiences outside that demographic. The good news is that while the show may feature and talk to younger viewers – making it arguably more accessible for this younger group than Flanagan’s previous works for the streamer (The Haunting of Hill House, The Haunting of Bly Manor, Midnight Mass) – The Midnight Club operates at a mature level all around. You are likely to find something to appreciate whether you’re 16 or 56.

As expected for a series that takes place in a hospice for terminally ill teens, it’s heartbreaking. Just be wary of binging The Midnight Club, though, despite the temptation posed by the cliffhanger endings. Watching many episodes back-to-back makes the series’ rigid formula very evident and somewhat monotonous, especially as television entertainment has evolved beyond that repeating format.

A further gripe is that the last episode may undo a lot of goodwill built up over the preceding nine, depending on how you feel. In a somewhat blatant attempt to aim for a second season, many plot threads remain unresolved, or are barely even mentioned. At the same time, other mysteries receive weaker conclusions than expected, and, in a couple of cases, twists come out of nowhere with little foreshadowing to amplify their believability. Despite this, it’s still worth diving into the series. It’s Flanagan-lite, but barely, and the emotional heft of the material alongside the dynamic and incredible cast carries the show through to the end of its first season. DM/ML

'The Midnight Club' poster. Image: Netflix / Supplied

‘The Midnight Club’ poster. Image: Netflix / Supplied

This story was first published on Pfangirl.com. The Midnight Club is available in South Africa on Netflix.

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