The Midnight Club Is Masterful On So Many Levels
The Midnight Club is a show of many layers. It’s a celebration of horror stories featuring horror stories happening within a bigger horror story.
But also, it’s one of the most emotionally brutal shows I’ve seen. It’s incredibly sad. If you know the premise, you know why—but make no mistake, The Midnight Club is not tiptoeing around its inherent tragedy.
And I must say upfront that I don’t know how well these plot details are presented from a factual standpoint. I assume they did their research; with topics like these, it would be irresponsible not to get accounts from those with these illnesses. They owe it to people suffering to ensure the medical information is realistic. So, for the rest of this review, I will talk from the standpoint that they did that research. I also haven’t read the original book, so I don’t know what of that they also pulled in for the show’s depictions.
For those wondering what I’m talking about, The Midnight Club deals with dying young adults. They’re dying of things like cancer and AIDs. It also addresses homophobia, faith, grief, and desperation. Every single episode has rough moments. Scenes of dialog hurt to listen to, especially because this stuff happens to real people all the time. It’s a miracle of effective writing that there isn’t more tonal whiplash between these scenes and the campy horror moments.
This Series Really Hits A Lot Of Different Emotions
Though perhaps I should instead credit the acting. This cast is incredible. Like, award-deserving incredible. I need it clear that I could spend paragraphs detailing how likable everyone is, how each character is so fleshed out and organic feeling they could’ve been their own main character in an alternative universe version of this show. Cheri (played by Adia) is delightful as a habitual liar. Natsuki (Aya Furukawa) lends such great energy with her horror enthusiasm. Spencer (William Chris Sumpter) hasn’t gotten a ton of development by episode three, but his acting alone helps bring across layers of backstory. I’m limiting myself to three full-on paragraphs but understand they all deserve their own.
Let’s start with Ruth Codd’s Anya. Somehow balancing an intense amount of anger and personal pain alongside fierce love for the other Midnight Club members, this character steals multiple scenes. If mishandled, she could’ve been an unlikable character, but her speeches were some of the most engaging television moments I’ve come across in months. They happen a little too often—sometimes seeming to come one scene after the other—but I always enjoyed them. I’m so glad the plot gives her as much focus as it does. She also did a great job in the horror story section of episode two.
Next up, we have Igby Rigney’s Kevin. It’s such a charming performance—and I was rooting for the heavily teased shipping they have with him and our main character. But the truly impressive stuff comes when he flips to a serial killer in his horror section. This actor has range, and I would love to see him do similar roles in a full-fledged slasher.
The Midnight Club Has Such Good Acting Choices
And, of course, we have Iman Benson’s Ilonka. She’s our main character and carries the show so well. Her character slightly missteps by feeling like an author insert, but the performance overcomes it. You always get where she’s coming from in any scene. She shows an emotional maturity, resourcefulness, and empathy refreshing in horror stories. I was especially fond of her scenes with her foster dad: you instantly get how much they care about each other.
And now, we get to the second half of my praise. We get to the other reason to watch this show: the stories The Midnight Club tell each other. If you’ve read my review of Nightbooks, you already know I wished it had more self-contained horror stories. Well, The Midnight Club does that and more. These are not only horror vignettes done in different styles, with incredible production value, but they also play into the main plot. You get a sense of the character who’s telling them. Whether or not they mean to, the club members weave aspects of their own lives, personalities, or feelings into the stories they tell. They’re not just fun sidetracks from the central mystery—they matter, and that’s such a phenomenal writing trick.
The Midnight Club Gets So Much From Its Premise
And what’s even better is they’re great stories besides. Like, yes, the first one is a meta-commentary (that’s hilarious as a horror writer/fan myself), but the plots are things I’d watch as full-length movies. Cutting between narrated scenes, full-on moment-to-moment immersion, and The Midnight Club in the library kept the scenes paced beautifully. I’m so glad they committed the time to do each horror story right, and I’m even more glad they used the existing cast to play the in-story characters. It lets all these talented actors show off even more.
Really, The Midnight Club is all I hoped it would be. It’s atmospheric, layered, and has excellent character writing. It’s got a lot of disparate parts that somehow work together, never ruining the tone of any other aspect. If you’ve been searching for something substantial to watch this October, you’ve found it.
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