Is Midnight Mass Based on a True Story?

Created by Mike Flanagan, Netflix’s ‘Midnight Mass’ is a remarkable exploration of faith, sobriety, death, afterlife, and Islamophobia, neatly wrapped up in a quintessential horror story. It is set in a place called Crockett Island, where recent degradation of the local fishing industry has led to a dwindling population. The arrival of a new and enigmatic priest, Father Paul (Hamish Linklater), causes a stir in the dying community. Disillusioned and disgruntled people who started to lose their faith suddenly find their way back to God. And when real miracles begin to happen, that faith transforms into euphoria. If you are wondering whether ‘Midnight Mass’ is inspired by actual events, this is what you need to know.

Is Midnight Mass Based on a True Story?

No, ‘Midnight Mass’ is not based on a true story. However, it seems that Flanagan heavily drew from his personal experiences while developing the project. At age 10, he was an altar boy at a Catholic church in Governor’s Island, New York, and grew up wondering about the horrifying and disturbing elements of religion that most people generally overlook. According to Kate Siegel, Flanagan’s wife and the actor who portrays Erin Greene in the show, ‘Midnight Mass’ existed in various forms over the years.

Image Credit: Eike Schroter, Netflix

At one point, it was a film, and then, it became a novel. Later, it was turned into a show. Trevor Macy, who runs Intrepid Pictures with Flanagan, realized that it was too big to be a film when he went through a feature script for ‘Midnight Mass’ while developing ‘Oculus’ (2013) with Flanagan. They reached out to several networks to see if they would want to create a TV series out of the script, but no one seemed to be interested at the time.

In an interview, Flanagan stated that he thought this would be the best project that he would never get to make. Despite this, ‘Midnight Mass’ remained as part of his creative outlet. In the 2016 slasher film ‘Hush,’ it appears as a best-selling book by the protagonist, deaf horror author Maddie Young (Siegel). ‘Midnight Mass’ once more appears as a book in the 2017 film ‘Gerald’s Game.’ The handcuffed Jessie Burlingame (Carla Gugino) attempts to make a dog afraid of her by reaching for a copy of ‘Midnight Mass.’

It took him a while, but Flanagan ultimately managed to find a home for Midnight Mass.’ By his admission, it’s the most personal project of his career. Flanagan himself has dealt with alcoholism and subsequent recovery in his life. He was three years sober at the time of the show’s premiere. By telling the stories of Riley (Zach Gilford) and Joe (Robert Longstreet), the two men whose drinking causes insurmountable damage in the show, it seems that Flanagan is exploring his own past.

“I don’t know how long I could have gone without writing it,” he stated. “There’s a very natural thing that happens where, if you’re writing anything that tiptoes into a personal place, you find yourself vomiting up all sorts of things into it. It’s happened to me with Hill House in a pretty big way. It happened with [The Haunting of Bly Manor]. This one, though, was the story I always wanted to tell.” The delay also proved to be a good thing in the long run. Flanagan got the chance to develop his ideas and find contradictions to them when they were necessary. This is why ‘Midnight Mass’ is as much about faith as it is about atheism. It is as much about sobriety as it is about alcoholism.

“Here’s this long scene I had written about atheism. Let me look at that a few years later and rebut it. Let me try to honestly come in and challenge my own idea. Here’s a long scene about alcoholism. Let me really try to come in and talk about recovery,” Flanagan explained. “Being in conversation with my various selves over the last 11 years, that have all dipped into this story, that’s what makes it so personal for me. I don’t know that I’ll ever be lucky enough to have that experience again with another piece of work.” Therefore, while Flanagan created ‘Midnight Mass’ by using elements of his personal life, it is not based on a true story.

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