Midnight Mass reveals a massive twist via a secret reference to The Shining, but what is the significance of the classic King / Kubrick in this scene?
Netflix’s new horror hit Midnight Mass features many nods to genre icon Stephen King, including an explicit reference to Stanley Kubrick’s adaptation of The brilliant. Show creator Mike Flanagan delivers yet another horror miniseries that combines thrills with intergenerational drama and big existential questions. The thoughtful show tackles questions of faith, fanaticism and community with the story of a mysterious priest arriving on a small island and beginning to perform mysterious miracles.
Flanagan himself is a great devotee of Stephen King, and many elements of the critically acclaimed film Midnight Mass reference to the horror author’s substantial body of work. In fact, Flanagan has a strong connection to King, having led the follow-up from 2019 to The Shining – Doctor Sleep. There are nods to King throughout the series’ seven episodes, but while some are just cute Easter eggs, some have pretty crucial thematic significance. One example is the shot that reveals Paul Hill’s origins at the end of Episode 3.
The first episode features Father Paul Hill, who replaced Bishop Pruitt after the latter fell ill during a trip to Jerusalem. However, the third episode ends with the revelation that young Paul is actually Monsignor Pruitt, revitalized by a supernatural encounter with a vampire (or “angel”) in a cave during his journey. The revelation is achieved via a secret reference to The brilliant, namely a slow zoom on an old photo of a young Pruitt taken decades earlier, which shows that Hill and the young Monsignor are the same man. This shows that Hill’s age was reversed by his vampiric encounter, and the way the twist is revealed is a marked improvement from The brilliantThe famous image of Jack Torrance in an old Overlook photo.
The reasoning behind the citation is important to the series, as the miracles Paul performed could leave even the most cynical viewers convinced that the genuinely likeable figure is a force for good in the community. However, in The brilliant, the image of Jack seen in Overlook is often read as proof that the abusive father was perpetually doomed to nearly kill his family, and that he fulfilled his destiny by arriving at the hotel. Likewise, as series creator Mike Flanagan Shiny following, Midnight Mass implies that Hill’s plans for the city are to return the island community to its former glory not only through miracles, but bloodshed and brutality as well.
At a time The brilliant and Midnight Mass, the men seen in the photographs are comfortable in their bygone era and want to force the changing world to return to the idealized era captured by these photos. Hill and Torrance (and in Dr Sleep, even the possessed Danny Torrance) are unable to forget the past and accept that the world must change, even if it means killing to keep it the same. Like underrated Netflix Things Heard and Seen, Midnight Mass uses a nod to The brilliant to reinforce the idea that her villain can’t let go of the past and embrace change, a running theme in King’s work and horror more broadly as a genre.
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