Netflix’s new spooky series The Midnight Club arrived on the streaming site last Friday, and though it is Mike Flanagan’s latest contribution to the genre, it is nothing like anything we’ve ever seen from our favorite horror king. Co-created by Leah Fong, the story follows eight terminally ill teens living at Brightcliffe Hospice who sneak into the library every midnight to exchange ghost stories and look for signs from the world after death.
During a press breakfast at the Netflix offices last Thursday, Flanagan and executive producer Trevor Macy chatted with journalists about The Midnight Club, adapting Christopher Pike’s work, and what it was like building different characters, stories, genres, and more.
Based on Pike’s 1994 novel of the same name, The Midnight Club is a sharp contrast from Flanagan’s previous Netflix works (The Hauntings, Midnight Mass) in that it’s his first YA series. That didn’t stop him from adapting the larger, more serious themes that make his shows so wildly popular, but rather allowed him to lean into them. “Something I learned from Pike was that he always included themes in his books that felt very adult,” said Flanagan. “He didn’t pull his punches with violence, with heavy things that kids are really thinking about. Intense bullying, suicide, sex, drugs—all of that was fair game in the Pike world. One of the things that my contemporaries and I loved about the books was that he wasn’t sugarcoating things. So while there was always a sense of bearing that younger audience in mind, we were also very careful not to condescend to them or try to police the kinds of things or places the show would go.”
“He treats his protagonists with more respect than a lot of YA authors do today,” echoed Macy. “We tried to keep that ethos top of mind for the series. The show lends itself to that because they’re going through the worst thing anyone can ever go through, and if you don’t treat it with respect, what do we do?”
Flanagan and his writing team used Pike’s original work as a launching pad to express as much of themselves into the characters as possible, inventing and reinventing arcs that felt universal for an audience of all ages. “There were different things about our high school years that became very important,” he explained. “We talked about the types of people we were in high school, the things we were afraid of in high school, and finding characters who could kind of hold on to that. I identify the most with Amesh myself, but I had writers in the room who were like, ‘I was Spence,’ you know, ‘I was Cheri; I still am Cheri.’ We were a roomful of kids who weren’t the cool kids in high school, and there was a lot of opportunity for us to mine that and to kind of pour that in.”
Netflix also secured the rights to 28 of Pike’s other works, which gave Flanagan and his team creative freedom to adapt different stories into different episodes, including titles such as Witch, The Wicked Heart, Road to Nowhere, and more. The story-within-a-story format allowed The Midnight Club an enormous playground to bend genres and experiment, whether it be James Cameron-inspired sci-fi or 1940s black-and-white film noir. The pilot episode includes an homage to ‘90s Japanese horror, and Flanagan used that as a platform to air out his grievances about why he doesn’t like to use jumpscares.
“I hate [jumpscares] because I feel like it’s very easy to walk up behind somebody and just smash things,” Flanagan said. To him, there’s a stark difference between being scared and being startled, and he decided the best way to run the trope to the ground was to include every possible type he could think of. The end product? 21 jumpscares in the show’s first episode (including the dumb throw-a-cat-across-the-screen scare), breaking the Guinness world record for most jumpscares in one episode of television.
“This is something that this show afforded us, less so in a show like Midnight Mass, where we got to have a lot of fun,” Flanagan said, about getting to mess around while filming. “The Midnight Club was always the place where we could put that fun. There were just no real limits to it and we could abandon tone at any point depending on who was telling the story. We got to have the kind of fun I never get to have at work.”
The process of assigning the right stories for the right characters itself also took much more trial and error to figure out. “We very much wanted there to be a reason that each of these stories was there,” Flanagan said. “Something that the character was working through had to kind of motivate the story. It had to either show us a window into something they’re having a hard time articulating—like with Anya’s, which is the only story from the book—or it had to help drive their arc forward. We had to see them work through something in their story that they were trying to work through in real life, but having a difficult time doing. The process of that was a lot of discussion in the writers room of trying to find those connections where they were naturally. And if we couldn’t find them, trying to stretch the rubber bands to touch.”
Finding the ways the show’s concept resonated with the cast and crew was essential in telling the story in a respectful manner. “The ways that [people around us] would say, ‘And also this is what’s important,’” Flanagan said. “‘We appreciate how seriously you guys are taking it on the page, [but] please don’t shy away from the levity. It’s so critical. Please don’t shy away from the humor. These kids would have it, they hold onto that.’”
The biggest takeaway from The Midnight Club is this idea that we’re all just stories in the end, a message that seems to carry across some of Flanagan’s other works (specifically Hill House). Even if characters depart from the show, they are still able to exist within the memories of their friends, which leaves the door wide open for ongoing seasons.
“The book is sad in that the club dies, but the epilogue is kind of beautiful,” Flanagan said, on envisioning the show’s future. “As we lose our cast members, we will have new ones. That cycle is something that the book didn’t get to do, and we get to do that.”
The Midnight Club is now streaming on Netflix.
Dianna Shen is an entertainment writer based in New York. When she’s not crying over a rom-com, she can be found on Twitter @ddiannashen.
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