Culled from an expansive library of Christopher Pike novels, The Midnight Club is a new sort of Netflix venture for Mike Flanagan, best-known for his adult-focused, limited-run horror series like The Haunting of Hill House and Midnight Mass. By contrast, The Midnight Club has been written as open-ended and is aimed at a younger audience.
The Midnight Club takes a single, self-contained novel and expands its scope by diving deep into the well of Pike’s work. As terminally ill children meet up nightly to tell each other stories as part of their bonding ritual while staying at hospice, something begins to stalk them in the night, pulling stories out of the shadows. (io9 got a chance to see the first episode as part of The Midnight Club’s New York Comic Con panel; we’ll be giving our impressions but no spoilers in this post.)
The young men and women of the Midnight Club are living at Brightcliffe Hospital, waiting out the inevitable end of their diagnoses. Ilonka (who has thyroid cancer) checks in; she’s been driven to the home by the story she unearthed of a young woman (also with thyroid cancer) who miraculously recovered while in hospice at Brightcliffe. But when she arrives, she begins to see visions of ghostly presences in the home, and her nightmares start to haunt her waking moments.
As Ilonka is brought into the Midnight Club, she and the rest of the terminal kids tell each other stories, trading parts of themselves in exchange for a memory. They are, Natsuki says in the pilot episode, making ghosts. In a way, this is similar to how Flanagan spoke about how he regards his own storytelling process. During a breakfast meet and greet with io9, Flanagan said that he often reflects on a piece of advice he received from Guillermo del Toro, “Filmography,” del Toro apparently said to Flanagan, “is biography.”
We’ll allow the name-dropping in this instance, as it’s a pretty fantastic way to look at the body of Flanagan’s work up to this point, and gives remarkable insight into Flanagan’s own state of mind as he finishes up The Midnight Club. This is, he said, the first series that his children can watch. (Aside from the Netflix series we already named, his other work includes Doctor Sleep, The Haunting of Bly Manor, Gerald’s Game, Oculus, and Ouija: Origin of Evil—all horror/fantasy that tends towards the extremely spooky, gory, and creepy.) He even mentioned that he “tested” some of the scenes and chacters with his eldest son, measuring their relevance against his interest. Midnight Club is a series that is not as prone to monologues as his previous work, but it is just as weighty, full of gravitas, and working with subject matter that in a way that in unflinching, honest, and darkly funny.
Set in the ‘90s and built from Flanagan’s memories of purchasing brightly-colored Pike novels (the colors, he mentioned, were the reason he chose his shirt for NYCC–a vibrant teal bowling shirt with neon-pink pockets) at Scholastic book fairs, Flanagan recalled reading them and passing them around to all his friends, feeling like they were getting away with something. Pike was the kind of author who wrote horror for a young audience but didn’t pull his punches or talk in circles around hard topics; he added more grim realism than someone like R.L. Stine, who tended towards camp. “It was the middle step before reading someone like Stephen King or Shirley Jackson,” Flanagan explained. “He never talked down to his audience, even though his audience was primarily children.”
Midnight Club does feel like an ode to ‘90s nostalgia, taking place in 1995 and featuring a soundtrack of pop, grunge, and second-wave punk as the characters wear mid-length flower dresses, vests, and slouchy, unfitted jeans. Fans of Flanagan—who know that he leaves Easter eggs and references in all of his work, might at first want to read into some of the missed steps with the needle drops; for example, the first episode ends with “Flagpole Sitta” by Harvey Danger, a song that was released in 1997. When asked about the discrepancy, Flanagan just shrugged. “The song fit. Who cares?”
There are other Easter eggs. Eagle-eyed Flanafans should be able to find the Oculus mirror, as well as tons of cameos from the actors known as the Flanafam–people that have appeared in multiple Flanagan projects. We know Rahul Kohli is showing up at some point, and Robert Longstreet as well. Flanagan also mentioned that Hamish Linklater, Carla Gugino, and Kate Siegel would all appear in some form or another, either on screen or as a voice over.
During the panel, Flanagan and his longtime EP/collaborator Trevor Macy were awarded with a Guinness World Record. “Having witnessed the following episode of The Midnight Club,” the judge said, holding the plaque in his hands, “I have determined that the first episode of The Midnight Club has beaten the previous world record of 14 scripted jump scares in a single episode of television.” The new world record is now 21 scripted jump scares. Flanagan is pleased about this, but it comes with a bit of a caveat. “I hate jump scares,” he said after accepting the award, “now, whenever anyone asks me to put in more of them, I can tell them, ‘You know, as the current world record holder for most jump scares in an episode of television… I don’t really think we need one!’ and hopefully I’ll never be asked to do another jump scare again.”
This whole series is like this: pushing the boundaries of what people expect from Flanagan in order to create something deeply meta, new, and fascinatingly grim. “We got to hit reset on every single episode when it comes to genre and aesthetic,” Flanagan said. “Cyborgs, witches, demons, you’ll see it all.” As Flanagan experiements with tone and tries on different ideas throughout the show, he becomes more and more obsessed with the idea of legacy; how everything will be told when we are gone. What will people remember? What will they know? What memories will huant those who knew us?
By putting terminal children at the focus of this series, the scares can’t come from the threat of death. The danger is here, the end is imminent. Each of these kids is waiting to die, some with humor, some with disaffection, others with defensiveness, and many with a sense of anger. Instead of death being the worst thing that can happen to these character, what’s instead made important is the loss of their stories. Life is cheap; the stories that these kids tell, the ghosts they make at the communal table, that’s what’s important. The stories these kids give to each other keeps their lives immediate. Death is simply a side effect of life. But telling stories? Sharing parts of themselves with each other? That’s more important. Death is coming for each member of the Midnight Club, sooner rather than later, and having that danger treated as present, normal, and accepted opens the door for deeper, nuanced discussions of how legacies can come from community and care.
“I want to leave something for my kids,” Flanagan said at the breakfast. “I want them to be able to know me, to learn more about me with every project I do. They have Dad—they have that side of me--but this is something different.” The Midnight Club is obsessed with this idea, the idea of time, potential, focus, expansiveness. Is life a fight a a gift? The show explores this over and over, as each kid gets to tell their own story, they reveal what’s important to them, what scares them, and, ultimately, what they want people to remember when they’re gone.
The Midnight Club stars Adia as Cheri Ian, Igby Rigney as Kevin, Annarah Cymone as Sandra, Iman Benson as Ilonka, Aya Furukawa as Natsuki, Ruth Codd as Anya, Sauriyan Sapkota as Amesh, and Chris Sumpter as Spencer.
All episodes of The Midnight Club are available now on Netflix.
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