The Midnight Club Review: The Cheesy Anti-Horror Stories From Netflix

The writer-director’s latest Netflix series offers clever genre subversions fueled by empathy, but they fail to overcome a weak story, poorly told.

In 2017, a little-known Australian author published an unforgettable book about dying – not about death, mind you, but about dying. Cory Taylor’s memoir, who was diagnosed with stage IV cancer, is not about “fighting” for her life or “fighting” an illness; It’s about grounding an experience that we will all share in one way or another. Dying: A Memoir acknowledges the fear and sadness that surrounds our ultimate destiny, but the author steers her story toward a defense of despair. She wishes more people could acknowledge the simple reality of death with empathy, acceptance, and an open dialogue. After all, declining the news of a loved one’s devastating diagnosis — “You can do it” or “Don’t talk like that” — is far more acceptable than facing the fear together in a real, practical exchange. And for those leaving soon, spending their final days hoping and seeking for a miracle is not necessarily the best use of limited time.

Dying: A Memoir comes to mind early and often when watching Mike Flanagan’s latest Netflix series The Midnight Club, but it’s less of a companion piece and more of a vastly superior vehicle for conveying a similar message. Created by Flanagan and Leah Fong (with Flanagan co-writing every episode except for one entry written only by his brother Jamie Flanagan), the 10-episode series is an adaptation of Christopher Pike’s 1994 novel of the same name ( as well as other works of the author). It follows a group of college-aged 90’s teenagers who live in a hospice for terminally ill teenagers. The home’s mission is simple: Brightcliffe provides a space for the dying to transition on their own terms – that is, its founder, Dr. Georgina Stanton (Heather Langenkamp), wants to help each patient appreciate life again instead of spending their final days in mortal fear. But the children’s secret ambition is a little more elaborate, if not antithetical to their teachings: Whoever dies next will give the remaining Midnight Club members some sort of otherworldly sign – to prove it exists, and the end, before which the group stands is ‘t Yes, really finally the end.

The Midnight Club. (L to R) Aya Furukawa as Natsuki, Ruth Codd as Anya, Annarah Cymone as Sandra, Iman Benson as Ilonka, Sauriyan Sapkota as Amesh, Igby Rigney as Kevin, Chris Sumpter as Spencer in Episode 104 of The Midnight Club. Kr. Eike Schröter/Netflix © 2022

“The Midnight Club”


Like Flanagan’s previous shows, The Midnight Club explores and subverts the standard horror tropes of a show of cults, haunted houses, and death lurking around every corner. Instead of watching patients being picked up one by one or carrying a message from the afterlife on a supernatural journey, the series invests in the emotional dangers of its characters. In each episode, they learn to recalibrate their expectations of Brightcliffe, which then reframes what audiences should expect from The Midnight Club.

Prospective viewers should by now be familiar with Flanagan’s brand of horror – more whimsical than menacing, more lovable than gory – but even for established fans, his latest film is the least successful at marrying admirable ambition with an entertaining story.” The Midnight Club aspires to change the conversation about death, perhaps for an entire generation of viewers, but such intoxicating (and necessary) ideas aren’t well embodied by what quickly degenerates into a cheesy, distracted, and frustrating story .

Meet Ilonka (Iman Benson). Ilonka is a hard-working high school grad who is so excited for college that she skips her classmates’ shindigs to go to a fraternity party. There, during an awkward flirtation, she coughs up real blood, runs to the bathroom and sees frightening visions of a mysterious house. From there, events unfold in quick succession: she’s diagnosed with thyroid cancer, treatments aren’t working, and her doctors tell her to face the inevitable: it’s time to prepare for the end.

For Ilonka, that means moving to Brightcliffe. She finds the house online (recognizes it from her visions) and urges her foster father to let her move in. He relents (way too easily, but whatever — “no parents” is burned into the premise), and Ilonka meets her new roommates. There’s Spencer (Chris Sumpter), a typically vivacious presence despite being pushed aside by conservative parents who can’t accept their gay son; Natsuki (Aya Furukawa), a creative writer struggling with her mental health; Sandra (Annarah Cymone), a devout Christian whose trust in God helps her cope; Amesh (Sauriyan Sapkota), an articulate, quick-witted video game nerd with a heart of gold; Cheri (Adia), an eccentric guy who the group can’t quite understand but who claims to be the daughter of famous Hollywood actors; Kevin (Igby Rigney), a supportive member of the group and guy next door; and Anya (Ruth Codd), an Irish rebel ready with a sarcastic retort or dogged rebuttal to any claim.

The Midnight Club. Rahul Kohli as Vincent in episode 105 of The Midnight Club. Kr. Eike Schröter/Netflix © 2022

Rahul Kohli in The Midnight Club

Eike Schroeter / Netflix

Long before Ilonka showed up, this crew was upholding an unofficial Brightcliffe tradition: a secret society called The Midnight Club. At 12 p.m. sharp, every teenager sneaks out of their room and gathers in the library to (mostly) tell scary stories (although Dr. Stanton gives strict instructions about observing the curfew). These meetings start out harmless, but as Ilonka spends her days combing through the hospice’s history — tracking down miraculous cures and visiting former guests — the late-night gatherings become more than just a hobby. You are part of a larger mission.

That doesn’t mean they’re always that interesting. Structurally, The Midnight Club could be split into two shows: there is an ongoing story about Ilonka’s journey through the hospice, but there is also an episodic element built from the campfire stories told during the Midnight Club. Featuring the children as alternate versions of themselves (as well as some of Flanagan’s favorite actors from previous productions), the one-off fables tend to offer a small glimpse into the backstory and the narrator’s state of mind, but oh boy, are they a liability in the grand scheme of things.

Like most episodic anthologies, certain stories are better than others, but a) as homages to different film genres, they’re all equally boring, and b) every 20-30 minute break from Ilonka & Co.’s reality brings with it its broader narrative to a screeching halt. Just when it feels like Ilonka’s investigation into Brightcliffe and her budding relationships there is picking up a bit of momentum, we’re thrown into a ’90s serial killer movie or a parody of 1940s film noir. To be honest, I’m still not sure if these stories are meant to be good or bad; Each child creates them for themselves, so perhaps the sloppy storytelling, clichéd trajectories, and crunchy dialogue are meant to accurately reflect how difficult it can be to make up a good story on the fly. But that doesn’t make them any easier to keep up, nor would it explain why some of these issues crop up outside of Midnight Club gatherings.

Since the episodic half of the show is almost so bad it’s funny, and the overall goal of the entire show is to lessen our collective fear of death, “The Midnight Club” could be considered Flanagan’s first anti-horror story will. In the past, some viewers have complained that his take on an ever-expanding horror genre just isn’t scary enough. Such arguments are usually useless – since such an objection really boils down to “that’s not what I thought it was”, which is only a problem if you only ever want to see what you’ve already seen – but you’ll be sure reappear. “The Midnight Club” hardly tries to be scary. An early Midnight Club yarn uses so many jump scares that the characters call the storyteller lazy. Other narrators are penalized for repeating themselves or for screwing up the big reveal. Such choices are intentional and help set the show apart from typical horror stories – they make it clear that The Midnight Club’s success is not dependent on how much terror it inspires.

But it does not elicit any other significant response instead. Predictable twists undermine any tension, over-extended storylines create too much scope, and sugar-sweet character arcs undermine any emotional impact. The Midnight Club feels so focused on overthrowing convention that Flanagan failed to pivot the series around a story as clear and compelling as its message.

Class: C

The Midnight Club premieres all 10 episodes on Netflix on Friday, October 7th.

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Lindsay Lowe

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