It’s not exactly a secret that I’m not a fan of James Wan as a director. I enjoyed Saw (2004) and Dead Silence (2007) – both written by Leigh Wannell. Coincidence? I don’t think so – though everything else I’ve seen from him is either dull – The Conjuring (2013) and it’s sequel – silly – Annabelle (2014) (though to be fair was directed by John R. Leonetti with Wan producing) or just cluttered and uneven – Aquaman (2018).
So I wasn’t surprised to seeing Malignant (2021) getting hammered review-wise, because Wan can barely tell a cohesive story, especially if there’s some edgy new camera angle to be utilized.
Mike Flanagan is the polar opposite of Wan. He typically takes well-written stories, good actors and shoots them in a way that doesn’t draw attention to themselves and lets the narrative shine through.
Midnight Mass is a prime example. It’s beautifully shot by Michael Fimognari and James Kniest and oddly naturalistic (‘oddly’ because it’s particularly stark, like Norman Rockwell on a bender), making Crockett Island a character in and of itself.
Like most Mike Flanagan productions, he tends to use the same actors for most of his productions, so many of the performers you see in Midnight Mass you’ll also find in The Haunting of Hill House (2018), The Haunting of Bly Manor (2020) and Doctor Sleep (2019).
This is likely because when you come by a great group of actors, you tend to stick with them and in a field with little in the way of financial security, it helps that there are directors who use the same actors consistently.