Mike Flanagan’s latest horror masterpiece, The Midnight Club, is now streaming on Netflix. The series, based on a novel by Christopher Pike, revolves around a group of terminally ill teenagers living at the (probably) haunted Brightcliffe hospice. Unbeknownst to the well-meaning staff, the mischievous kids sneak out of their rooms every night and meet in the library, where they tell each other ghost stories and think about life beyond the grave. It’s a fantastic premise, and it’s even better in execution. After a string of hits like the Haunting series and last year’s Midnight Mass, Flanagan delivers yet another exhilarating, endearing spookfest that’s worth everyone’s time and attention.
As a fan of frights and lover of good television, I had the distinct pleasure of experiencing The Midnight Club’s premiere episode on two occasions before it became available to the rest of the world. First, after receiving a screener from Netflix, I watched the pilot alone in my room. I set everything up the same way I would have for the rest of Flanagan’s projects. A bottle of wine sat beside my bed in dim lighting as I curled up under my sheets – fluffy pajamas and all – and hit play on The Final Chapter. For the next hour, I mostly just made a variety of noises. They included screeches, gasps, and pleas for the fear to stop. With nobody but myself around, I was free to do whatever was necessary to cope with the events playing out on the screen in front of me. Whether or not I also covered my ears to soften the blow of jump scares is private information.
Then, only a few nights later, I was lucky enough to watch The Final Chapter once more. For my second viewing, however, I was not alone. Instead, I found myself sitting amongst a large crowd of excitable horror fans at New York Comic-Con. The event was hosting the world premiere of the series, with the full cast and Flanagan in tow, and had pulled out all the stops. It was like a theater experience in that room, with the audience reacting loudly to every ghoulish moment and leaning forward in unison for each segment of emotional relief. We all took the bait together, metaphorically holding hands as we made our way down the murky path to Brightcliffe. It was an entirely different experience to the one I had lived through in my apartment. I no longer had my safety blanket, and instead was comforted only by the knowledge that everyone else in the room was as terrified as myself. It was group suffering, which is arguably the best kind of pain.
Following my time in the convention center, I was left with a curious thought – after watching The Midnight Club both alone and with a crowd, was either method better than the other? I think the definitive answer is a firm “no,” as the way one chooses to experience something is subjective and a matter of personal preference. However, I thought it interesting to at least explore the differences between the two. Watching by myself, I was struck by the way The Midnight Club was able to consume the space in which it was playing. With each movement of the score, or trick of the camera, it had the power to suck away all other energy from my room. Shadows began to creep, and my attention was pulled fully into the world of Brightcliffe. It made jump scares harder to take. A quiet nightmare interrupted by the ferocious, adrenaline-filled jolt of sudden monstrous faces. When it was over, I sat in silence. Contemplating the choices I had made up until that point in my life.
With an audience, it was altogether different. It didn’t matter that I already knew where the scares would be. The show is well-constructed enough to pull me in again, but this time, I had backup. There was a sense of relief after every fright, with myself and my fellow audience members even laughing at our own collective cowardice, in a somewhat successful attempt to clear the air of fear. Simultaneously, though, the scares felt bigger. With a full room reacting all at once, there was a sense of camaraderie in our terror. More of a rollercoaster ride than a personal attack. It was also a delight to watch the faces of the crowd as they lit up for each of the show’s best moments. There’s a certain pleasure one can take in knowing your seat partner is having just as much fun as you.
So, ultimately, watching The Midnight Club as a group was maybe more fun, but watching it alone was altogether the scarier experience. I’m not sure which is the one Mike Flanagan intended, but the show really works either way. Take note, if you plan on watching the show but aren’t sure how much you can really handle. It’s easier to put yourself through it if you have a nice little group together. If you’re a horror junkie, or a proverbial anxiety purist, lock yourself in a dark space and hit play with nothing to aid you but your favorite pillow. You’ll enjoy it no matter what. How you sleep after is entirely up to you.