For die-hards, no horror movie can be too scary. But for you, a wimp, the wrong one can leave you miserable. Never fear, scaredies, because Slate’s Scaredy Scale is here to help. We’ve put together a highly scientific and mostly spoiler-free system for rating new horror movies, comparing them with classics along a 10-point scale. And because not everyone is frightened by the same things—some viewers can’t stand jump scares, while others are haunted by more psychological terrors or simply can’t stomach arterial spurts—it breaks down each movie’s scares across three criteria: suspense, spookiness, and gore.
This time, the Scaredy Scale takes on Midnight Mass, the latest Netflix series from Mike Flanagan, the creator of The Haunting of Hill House and The Haunting of Bly Manor. Set in the remote fishing village of Crockett Island, located 30 miles off the U.S. coast, the series is built around the encounters between Zach Gilford’s recovering alcoholic, who has returned home after years in prison, and a charismatic Catholic priest played by Hamish Linklater, whose arrival on the island is followed by a string of strange occurrences that may be miracles—or the work of a significantly less divine presence. Will it stick in your bones or fade like a teenager’s catechism? Read on.
Netflix shows are rarely in a rush, but Midnight Mass takes full advantage of its seven-hour span to unveil its story slowly: It’s not until the end of the third hour that you know precisely what kind of trouble the people of Crockett Island are in. That leisurely approach gives the show time enough to establish its characters so that you actually care when bad things start happening to them, which heightens the suspense even further.
Without giving too much away, suffice it to say that when the blood in Midnight Mass starts flowing, it does so in earnest. Throats are slashed, heads cracked open, and so on. Also, you know the horror movie rules about how nothing bad should happen to children or pets? Midnight Mass does not play by them.
Sustaining a mood is what Midnight Mass does best, often forgoing look out behind you suspense in favor of steadily rising uncanniness. It’s a movie about belief, and the perversion of it, so that when Hamish Linklater starts giving off-kilter sermons, you know something is wrong, and the inability to immediately pinpoint it just makes it more unsettling. (Add at least one full point to this score if you were raised Catholic.) The resonance with the current tide of religious extremism in the U.S. isn’t underlined, but it doesn’t need to be to make the rising tide of fanaticism in this isolated, homogenous community feel especially eerie.
Midnight Mass does eventually bring the horror goods—not for nothing is the last chapter named “Revelation,” for the book of the Bible that describes the apocalypse. But the true horrors of Crockett Island aren’t supernatural, even if the forces that reveal them are. It’s all too easy to picture a hemmed-in rural community that has seen better days falling under the sway of ideas that might eventually destroy them, and that’s harder to shake than anything that goes bump in the night.