‘Midnight Mass’ Creator Warns ‘Haunting’ Fans Not to Look for Hidden Ghosts Unless They Want to Be ‘Really, Really Disappointed’

·6 min read

This “Midnight Mass” preview was first published on Sept. 20.

Netflix’s new thriller limited series “Midnight Mass” comes from the mastermind who gave you “The Haunting of Hill House” and “The Haunting of Bly Manor.” But just because he dreamed up “The Haunting” franchise doesn’t mean Mike Flanagan’s new show, which launches Friday, is anything like his anthology. In fact, he’s spent a few weeks making sure to correct people on social media who assume “Midnight Mass” is Season 3 of “The Haunting.”

“One of the reasons why we’re very careful to calibrate the expectations properly is that I do feel like people who mistakenly approach this material the same way they would approach ‘Hill House’ or ‘Bly’ are going to be surprised to find it’s so different,” Flanagan told TheWrap in a joint interview with his producing partner Trevor Macy.

2018’s “The Haunting of Hill House” was based on Shirley Jackson’s book of the same name and its followup series “The Haunting of Bly Manor,” which debuted last fall, is a twist on Henry James’ “The Turn of the Screw.” “Midnight Mass” is Flanagan’s original story — the tale of a small, isolated island community called Crockett Island, whose existing divisions are amplified by the return of a disgraced young man (Zach Gilford) and the arrival of a charismatic priest (Hamish Linklater) and the unexplained and seemingly miraculous events that come with him.

Flanagan continued: “And while there are familiar faces and familiar kind of esthetic techniques that just come with it being an Intrepid project, if you spend the show looking for hidden ghosts, you’re going to be really, really disappointed. So, yeah, ‘The Haunting, which we love for its own reasons, whether or not we find a way to get a third iteration of that up in the future is wide open. I think we’re just very careful not to incorrectly make people expect this to be that.”

(For those who don’t know, Flanagan is referring to the many, many, many hidden-in-plan-sight ghosts that were a fan-favorite component he snuck into both “Hill House” and “Bly Manor,” which gave the horror shows a horror vibe even in some seemingly mundane scenes. But, again, you should not expect those to show up in “Midnight Mass.”)

Created and directed by Flanagan, the seven-episode limited series also stars Kate Siegel, Rahul Abburi, Crystal Balint, Matt Biedel, Alex Essoe, Annarah Cymone, Annabeth Gish, Rahul Kohli, Kristin Lehman, Robert Longstreet, Igby Rigney, Samantha Sloyan, Henry Thomas and Michael Trucco.

See more from TheWrap’s spoiler-free “Midnight Mass” Q&A with Flanagan and Macy below, and check back after the series launches for our post-mortem content.

TheWrap: Mike, you have described “Midnight Mass” as your favorite project so far and the one you have spent years trying to make. Why did it take you guys so long to finally get it made?

Mike Flanagan: I think it took so long to make for a couple of reasons. I think it took a very long time to take its final shape. I started working on it so long ago and it’s so kind of tied to my childhood and a lot of the bigger questions about life and death and what I thought about all that. I think when I started working on it, it was not nearly formed enough to get made. And then when we took it out as a pitch in 2014 and nobody bought it–

Trevor Macy: Hit the ground with a thud.

MF: Yup! And it’s interesting looking back at that now because it was disappointing at the time, because we felt it could be a great show. And looking back at it now, it’s like, no it wasn’t ready. There was a lot in the project about religion, but not a lot about moderatism. And there was a lot that I had to say about alcoholism, but I hadn’t gotten sober yet. And so it just wasn’t finished. It didn’t have a complete perspective, at least a complete enough perspective, that it would have worked. And I think this kind of finally came along at the right time, where a lot of us had enough to say, finally, to make it worthwhile.

TM: Yeah, I think it was also, there’s some trial runs that you can see, from the placement of the book in “Hush” and “Gerald’s Game,” you can probably see that it had been on Mike’s mind for a while. But there’s also, the thinking about the AA stuff was definitely honed by “Doctor Sleep.” And each of the ideas kind of were sharpened a little bit in the intervening years. And I think that the show is better now than it would have been then.

Three-part question: First, do you think the success of “The Haunting” franchise and your subsequent Netflix deal also contributed to your ability to finally make “Midnight Mass?” Next, Mike, I’ve seen you correcting some people on social media who confuse “Midnight Mass” with “The Haunting” franchise, and wondered if there was at any point talk of making it part of the franchise, like “The Haunting of Crockett Island,” given that fans desperately want another installment? And finally, you’ve previously said there are currently no plans for more of “The Haunting,” so what do you now think the outlook is for a Season 3?

MF: “The Haunting” definitely made it so that Netflix would make the show, 100%. And I had never been able to see [“Midnight Mass”] as anything else, because “Midnight Mass” pre-dates “The Haunting” by so many years. The first iteration of “Midnight Mass” that I can find, the novel, is from 2010, which was the first time I sat down to write it. So it’s always existed in my mind as its own thing.

I think the other thing that really separates it is “The Haunting,” as part of its identity, as part of its DNA, that show is an adaptation of classic horror literature and that’s what it’s meant to be. From Shirley Jackson in Season 1 to Henry James in Season 2. [“Midnight Mass”] isn’t based on anything else. It’s very much a homegrown thing. And because the central kind of supernatural element of this isn’t ghost-related, it felt like I would look at this as a “Haunting” story, just from a kind of sub-genre point of view. So it just never really fit.

And one of the reasons why we’re very careful to calibrate the expectations properly is that I do feel like people who mistakenly approach this material the same way they would approach “Hill House” or “Bly” are going to be surprised to find it’s so different. And while there are familiar faces and familiar kind of esthetic techniques that just come with it being an Intrepid project — if you spend the show looking for hidden ghosts, you’re going to be really, really disappointed. And so, yeah, “The Haunting,” which we love for its own reasons, whether or not we find a way to get a third iteration of that up in the future is wide open. I think we’re just very careful not to incorrectly make people expect this to be that.

TM: Because, in a sense, we’re going to do scary stuff our whole careers. And most of it won’t be “The Haunting.”

“Midnight Mass” launches Friday on Netflix.

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