Teens Face Death With Stories In Mike Flanagan’s Funny But Gluttony New Series ‘The Midnight Club’ | Film and television reviews | Seven days

Teens Face Death With Stories In Mike Flanagan’s Funny But Gluttony New Series ‘The Midnight Club’ |  Film and television reviews |  Seven days

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An impressive young cast energizes Flanagan's sometimes errant series about a hospice for teens.  - COURTESY OF NETFLIX

  • Courtesy of Netflix
  • An impressive young cast energizes Flanagan’s sometimes errant series about a hospice for teens.

Decades ago, a best-selling writer named Christopher Pike heard of a young fan who was in a cancer ward. She and her fellow patients met regularly at midnight to discuss their teen horror novels, and she asked the author to write a book about her group. Pike was more than just a game, he reminded himself in a recent Netflix press release. But before he could finish the midnight club (published in 1994), the young woman who inspired it was dead.

Does it seem strange that a group of seriously ill children would get together to discuss Pike’s stories of murder, mayhem and doom? Maybe it shouldn’t. For many people, particularly young people, fictional horror is a way of coping with the specter of real death.

Director Mike Flanagan (“The Haunting of Hill House”) often mixes fear and heart. He and co-creator Leah Fong adapted Pike’s novel (and several of his other works) into the new Netflix series “The Midnight Club,” set in a teen hospice. I watched it to see if Flanagan could capture the qualities that made ’90s kids swear by Pike’s work.

the deal

Seventeen-year-old Ilonka (Iman Benson) is headed for college glory when she receives a diagnosis of terminal thyroid cancer. After a year of treatment, he asks to enter Brightcliffe Hospice, located in a Victorian mansion by the sea. Far from resigning himself to death, Ilonka has seen rumors online that suggest the place might have miraculous healing properties.

At Brightcliffe, Ilonka meets seven other teenagers, including Kevin (Igby Rigney), who tries to keep up an upbeat facade for the girlfriend he left behind; Sandra (Annarah Cymone), who finds strength in Christianity; and Anya (Ruth Codd), who insists on expressing the brutal truths that everyone else does their best to ignore.

Every midnight, the eight children gather to tell stories by the fireplace. They have made a pact: whoever dies first will send a signal to assure the others that there is life beyond the grave.

It will like you?

If you know Pike only from the lurid covers of his paperbacks, you might be surprised to learn that the midnight club it is a sensitive treatment of death informed by its author’s interest in Buddhism. The stories the club members exchange range from spooky tall tales to serious musings on mortality. The book version of Ilonka has dreams set in ancient Egypt and India that turn out to be instructive scenes from her past lives. Pike offers lessons on mindfulness and acceptance in his trademark pulpy prose, and it all ends in some 200 pages, not without tears, in the case of this adult reader.

As is his wont, Flanagan has made the story much longer and more complicated. Gone are Ilonka’s past life dreams, replaced by eerie visions that seem to be connected to the grim backstory of the hospice. Decades before Dr. Stanton (Heather Langenkamp of a nightmare on elm street) took over there, the place was home to a cult obsessed with ancient Greek notions of healing.

Obsessed with the possibility of healing herself and others, Ilonka immerses herself in the cult’s tradition. This puts her at odds with Anya, a hospice veteran who has seen so many people die that she feels safe only in an almost nihilistic fatalism. A first-time actor and amputee both in real life and on screen, Codd gives a spectacular performance. The most powerful episode of the series revolves around Anya’s search for peace.

All of the skilled young actors who play the members of the Midnight Club have additional roles in the stories that their characters tell, which we see on screen. One of those stories is from the source novel; the others are compressed adaptations of different Pike books. Most of these embedded tales are hilarious and convey the diversity of the author’s output, from the self-parodic noir of “Give Me a Kiss” to the brain-twisting sci-fi of “So Long” and the Sartrean desolation of “Road to nowhere.”

With its likeable cast, quaint setting, and rambling, metafictional structure, “The Midnight Club” makes for a good comforting watch, especially for viewers in the mood for something on the milder end of the spooky spectrum. One wonders, however, if Flanagan will have the courage to do what Pike did: let his protagonists die. We don’t find out, because the tenth and final episode ends on a frustrating cliffhanger that suggests the showrunner is banking on a second season renewal.

Today’s streaming creators could learn something from the brevity of teen pulp novels. While “The Midnight Club” has a wobbly structure and sticks around longer than expected, it captures the mix of macabre thrills and dark truths that may have inspired the real “midnight club” to pay homage to Pike’s works all those years ago. .

If you like this, try…

“The Curse of Bly Manor” (nine episodes, 2020; Netflix): I have mixed feelings about the “Flanaverse,” as Netflix started calling the various Flanagan limited series. But his extended riff on Henry James The turn of the Screw features some good scares, harrowing musings on death, and an epilogue set in Vermont!

“Final game” (2018; Netflix): For a less fanciful take on the end of life, watch this short, Oscar-nominated documentary about hospice doctors helping terminally ill patients weigh their options at a San Francisco hospital.

dick johnson is dead (2020; Netflix): Kirsten Johnson’s bizarre documentary is a unique act of mourning for a man who is not yet dead: her father.

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