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Mike Flanagan’s Emotional Netflix Thriller – The Hollywood Reporter


If “the sound of stories is the sound of life”, as one of its characters reflects, Club at midnight actively bursting with life. Nested within its central story, about a teenage girl (Iman Benson’s Ilonka) arriving at Brightcliffe hospice after being diagnosed with terminal cancer, are at least a dozen others: Having a mythical history Brightcliffe’s hazy secrets, and biographs of other young Brightcliffe residents, plus the spooky fictional stories they share around the fireplace every night as they wait for someone to, at last, make a good deal their consent to access from the other side when they have passed away.

Not all stories included in Club at midnight works equally well, and some intentionally don’t really work. Collectively, however, they make a compelling case for why stories matter, and why scary stories in particular are so, inadequate or imperfect – and on top of that. Along the way, we might draw some startled, a few gasps and lots of tears.

Club at midnight

Key point

A moving, sometimes spooky series about the power of stories.

Release date: Friday, October 7 (Netflix)
Cast: Iman Benson, Igby Rigney, Ruth Codd, Annarah Cymone, Chris Sumpter, Adia, Aya Furukawa, Sauriyan Sapkota, Matt Biedel, Samantha Sloyan, Zach Gilford, Heather Langenkamp
Creator: Mike Flanagan, Leah Fong

Like co-creator Mike Flanagan’s previous series The Haunting of Hill House and The Haunting of Bly Manor (the latter of which has Midnight Club co-creator Leah Fong as producer), Club at midnight is a literary adaptation, albeit with less material – it is based on the horror novel YA by Christopher Pike. Still, the result feels like a piece with his otherwise splendidly mounted, emotional dramas, down to the stately, perhaps haunted mansion and monologues. long, searching on thorny topics like love, death, and dying.

Ilonka’s stubborn refusal to accept her fate prompted her main action Midnight ClubThe episodes are ten hours long, as we soon discover her real motive for going to Brightcliffe is out of desperate hope. Hearing rumors that a resident several decades ago was mysteriously healed, she is determined to recreate the same miracle for herself. Her quest helps her grasp natural treatments and delve into Brightcliffe’s hidden history of paranormal activity, ultimately with help from new friends like her hippie neighbor. (Samantha Sloyan) Ilonka seems to happen every time she ventures into the woods around the hospice.

Club at midnightMy setup seems to provide a quick shortcut to depth (if there’s any premise easier to exploit tears than a sick child, it’s eight of them), but Flanagan and Fong beware. Be careful to avoid reducing their characters according to their diagnosis. Tears, when they come, are well earned. Empathetic writing and lively performances bring personalities to the screen – perhaps none more so than Ruth Codd as Anya, Ilonka’s self-described bitch of a roommate, and Chris Sumpter as Spence, a gay AIDS patient confronting both his sexuality and his diagnosis. Meanwhile, Benson’s combination of stubbornness and compassion makes her an ideal anchor for the series’ stinging feelings of empathy.

Every day, Brightcliffe’s young patients process their complex feelings in group therapy sessions under the warm and steady hands of Dr. Stanton (Heather Langenkamp). But in the dormant Midnight Club gatherings, they actually open up to each other through wild, horror-tinted fictions. The majority of each chapter is devoted to describing these stories, taking back some of the unpredictable fun I remember from my 90s childhood gobbling up Pine book after book; Fans of his work will probably be tickled when they hear that Midnight Club Borrowing its structure from one of his titles, many more are adapted in these amazing flights.

Flanagan and Fong are not exactly subtle about how they reflect the predicament of the teenagers who are sharing them. Through these stories, these children can write for themselves the endings they secretly wish or fear they deserve, to deal with their worries and regrets by projecting them on. ghosts or demons or time travel. Often, they become a way to grapple with hope, as when Amesh (Sauriyan Sapkota), who has a crush on Natsuki (Aya Furukawa), invents a sci-fi thriller about a weirdo shy like him (also plays Sapkota) who tries to marry the girl (also played by Furukawa).

What keeps the gimmick from turning into lead hypertension is the feel of the game. Club at midnight gleefully seizes the opportunity to delve into different styles and genres, with a chapter going even further to recreate the grainy black-and-white palette and 4:3 aspect ratio of a classic noir – wear although one chapter focuses on a chubby girl chewing toothpicks instead of smoking cigarettes, to reflect her straight-haired creator Sandra (Annarah Cymone). Their cast mainly consists of Midnight Club (with a handful of guest appearances from other Flanagan artists), and their narration is frequently interrupted by listeners who quickly call it too reliant on other artists. scare to jump or crash into each other for a pointless detail.

That the stories inside this story differ in quality only adds to their fun. Every messy wig or clumsy voice contributes to the feeling that we’re watching a homegrown troupe perform shows that mean something to them, even if they lack deft professionalism. of a Broadway play. In Club at midnightstorytelling is not a lone virtuoso performance but a joint project, and stories gather meaning as characters incorporate their own interpretations, twists, or critiques, and ultimately respond with their own stories.

On the contrary, the main story runs out of steam despite the nice production values. As pure horror goes, Club at midnight even less scary than last year Mass at midnight. The horrors unfolding at Brightcliffe can be effective in the moment – the corridors seem to transport themselves to other eras, the “living shadows” stalk the dying and sometimes seem to stretch out their arms come out and suffocate them – but it feels too often like the late thoughts to the end of the chapters have culminated on some other emotional plane. Those who prefer detailed explanations and neat handling should be warned that Club at midnightMysteries draw instead of preamble, and end on a final node that is bound to confuse more than clarify.

But that also feels true somehow for a project that prioritizes deep emotions over cheap thrills or easy answers. Near the end of the season, Kevin (Igby Rigney), a clean stepbrother whose serial killer thriller has lasted many evenings, confesses the real reason he’s reluctant to end things. : “Once everyone knows the end, the rest of the story just fades away”. In the show’s typical meta fashion, he’s clearly talking about his own impending death as well as the final chapters of his story. How touching Midnight Club itself, whose characters remain in the heart after the plot ends, proves him wrong.

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