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Mike Flanagan and Trevor Macy on 'The Midnight Club' and their hopes for Season 2
The producers behind the Netflix horror series explain their approach, and what they hope comes next.
Mike Flanagan has been preparing to make The Midnight Club for most of his life, even if his early attempts didn't always work out. The writer and director of films like Oculus and Doctor Sleep and Netflix hits like The Haunting of Hill House and Midnight Mass grew up devouring the novels of Christopher Pike, which form the basis for the new Netflix series' blend of teen drama and supernatural horror. Now, with The Midnight Club co-creator Leah Fong, it's become his job to boil down the essence of Pike's appeal into a single show, something he drew on his childhood experiences with the author to achieve.
"What makes a Pike story, for me, is that he treated his teen characters like grownups, he never pulled a punch, he was happy to go dark and unafraid to explore any particular corner of the genre," Flanagan told SYFY WIRE ahead of The Midnight Club's New York Comic Con premiere last week. "And [he was] versatile. He would switch that gear just as violently as he jammed himself into it. And the next book was something completely unexpected and unlike what you read before. And finally, much to my deep surprise as this young teenager, he would make me cry. And that was something with horror I didn't know went hand in hand yet. That was a surprising revelation for me."
Flanagan and the cast and crew of The Midnight Club poured all of those ingredients into the new series, which operates from the core premise of Pike's novel of the same name: A group of terminally ill teenagers gathers each night in the library of the hospice where they all spend their final days, swapping scary stories while promising to each other that when they die, they'll send a message back to the rest of the group from beyond. The result is a compelling ensemble piece that allows its young cast — Led by Iman Benson, Igby Rigney, and Ruth Codd — to dig deep into the personal stories of their characters, while also transforming into other versions of themselves for the stories within stories that The Midnight Club tell each night.
Those stories, and the various subgenres they explore over the course of the series, are a tribute to the versatility of Pike as a writer, and what Flanagan and his longtime producing Trevor Macy hoped would set The Midnight Club apart from other horror series of its kind. In each hour of the show, you follow what the members of the title club are going through, while also taking a trip into a high school-set film noir, for example, or a jump scare-laden ghost story, or something else entirely.
"That was the big challenge of the show," Flanagan said. "The A storyline, as we called it, the kids in the hospice, that had a very traditional and linear arc to it. The B stories, though, we jammed the reset button in every episode, and part of the whole premise was we can radically shift our aesthetic and our tone at whim, because the kids can. And as long as the characters were well drawn enough for the kids that we felt like this new story is giving us just a little more insight into who Sandra is or into who Spence is, as long as those were connected, we felt like we could get away with those larger shifts. It was some of the bigger kind of tug of war that we had with Netflix, was about the importance of letting the B stories be what they are."
Macy added, "We feel like that's what makes the show different from others, and it's super fun for the directors we brought in. It's super fun for the actors to try on different facets of a character within the same context. We also spend a lot of time talking about, 'OK if we want to do [a new project], how is it different than everything else on TV?' And this is a big opportunity to do something distinct, we thought. So we kind of leaned into the gear shifts."
Flanagan and Macy also leaned into the show's ability to focus heavily on a group of teenage protagonists. Though Flanagan's made horror stories starring characters of all ages throughout his career, creating a series specifically geared toward the world of Christopher Pike meant turning a lens on teenagers like never before. That gave the filmmakers a fresh opportunity to say something about teenagers now, particularly with this story of teenagers who spend every day staring death in the face."
"I felt like the ethos of taking these young protagonists seriously and giving them the agency at a time when everybody can relate to [facing death]. If you haven't faced it, you're going to, or you know someone who has," Macy said. "Our kids talk about death differently than I think I did when I was a kid, and so honoring that and hitting that head on it and using genre as a lens to talk about that, that's an opportunity we felt we hadn't had before. At least not in this way."
Flanagan added, "I think this generation is different. I think they're more connected to each other, because of the internet, because of social media. I think they're quicker to stand up for themselves in a profound way. You're seeing that all over the world where it's our generation [which is] kind of stuck in these ruts and saying, 'Well, it's very complicated and we have to navigate it.' And the teens are being like, "No, f*** that. This has to change. What are you talking about this is the way it is? No, it's not.' And they can do it very visibly on an international scale. I think that's why entertainment for young viewers is much more sophisticated, is much more immediate. A show like Euphoria, that doesn't exist when I was a kid. But these days, that generation demands it and they're tuned in, in a way that we weren't. They're connected in a way that we weren't. So I think there is definitely a moment right now where it's like, if you want to make something for them, you better show up, because they're not going to stick around to be pandered to."
Another thing that sets The Midnight Club apart from Flanagan and Macy's previous Netflix efforts, as fans who've binged to the end of the season already know, is an open-ended story. The show's 10-episode run ends with certain resolutions, but other storylines and mysteries are left open for the possibility of more episodes and more stories. That's by design, and Flanagan and Macy already have a plan for moving forward if Netflix renews the series.
"One of the things about the premise of the show, that the book didn't even really get to explore, is that as cast members depart the show, new ones will come in," Flanagan said. "And we are kind of building up toward the moment when Ilonka (Benson) is kind of the last of the old guard, to orient a new cast into what the Midnight Club is and what it means. There's no shortage of stories in the Pike universe to draw from.
"And what I loved about this too was one of the big thematic things I believe, not only for this show but in life in general, is that we're all stories in the end, which is a quote I first saw on Doctor Who, that burned its way into my brain forever. And even cast members whose characters have died on the show, still live on in the minds of the people they left behind and can appear as characters in their stories. So just because we lose someone doesn't mean that that actor is gone from the series at all. This was always designed to keep going, and I hope we get to. I don't know if we will, we'll find out, but it's really kind of nice and different for us to not be trying to tie the whole thing off at the very end. It's nice not to be limited for a change."
The Midnight Club is now streaming on Netflix.
Looking for more scares? Stream plenty of horror movies on Peacock.