If you are a fan of Mike Flanagan’s previous work for Netflix, The Haunting of Hill House, The Haunting of Bly Manor, and most recently, Midnight Mass, you are in for a treat. His brand of specific horror strikes a balance between poignant grief and bone-chilling frights. It’s a new breed of horror unique to him, and The Midnight Club is another excellent example. The series is geared towards young adults but is much more than a love letter to Goosebumps. Instead, universal mature themes of death, grief, trauma, addiction, and morality are what these young people face.
Eight young adults live in a hospice where they wait to die. Each has a different illness and experience outside the institute, but they all share a looming threat. To cope, they get together nightly and share ghost stories that are more than paranormal tales of demons and ghosts. They are panaceas for the soul. An expelling of their fear, guilt, and regret and a way to come to grips with their pain.
Spencer’s guilt caused by his mother’s rejection, Anya’s guilt over her treatment of Rhett and her drug addiction, Ilonka’s need to believe in magic, Amesh and Natsuki’s desire for a love that will transcend death, and Kevin’s need to feel control and atone for hurting those he most cares for. Almost everyone has a story to tell. Even deeply religious Sandra shares a thriller that isn’t entirely angel porn.
Although the stories are all interesting, traversing familiar tropes and a broad spectrum of subgenres, they are not the spookiest things in this big house. Ilonka sees ghosts everywhere and thinks she has unlocked the key to healing their friend Anya. After deciphering some clues and some convenient chats with a woman who runs a wellness commune next door, she finds a book with an hourglass symbol on it. This is the overarching story inside The Midnight Club. It is also a completely new plot addition to the novel Christopher Pike wrote.
Although the series never fully answers all of the questions about what the others are seeing and what happened to the previous resident that was miraculously healed, many answers can be teased out between the tears and words of warning. Here’s everything you need to know about Paragon, the hourglass tattoo, who Dr. Stanton really was, the shadow monster, and Anya’s ballerina figure.
Was the shadow monster real in The Midnight Club?
Throughout the film, several characters mention seeing a shadow figure reaching out to them. Anya says the girl who had the bed before Ilonka spoke about seeing it towards the end of her life. Anya and Ilonka both see it at different times in the series. The specter is death. It’s never fully explained, but in all likelihood, it is a representation of death. The closer they are to dying, the more they see the monster. Their fear probably manifests as a hallucination and is nothing more sinister than that. We know that some unexplainable things were caused by Sandra, who was trying to give her friends hope that something existed beyond their death.
What does Anya’s repaired ballerina mean?
Anya’s ballerina figurine was a prized possession because it was given to her by Rhett. The ballerina had one leg removed, just like Anya’s, that was amputated because of bone cancer. After Anya’s death, all of her possessions went to Ilonka, who looked at it all and found Rhett’s phone number. Anya had wanted to make amends but never did, so Ilonka tried to call him. Unfortunately, Rhett’s phone number no longer worked, but he saw her obituary and came to claim her things at Brightcliff. As he went through her box, he found the ballerina whose leg was now perfectly intact.
All of The Midnight Club had promised that whoever went first would contact those left behind and let them know everything was okay. Anya used the fixed figurine to let Ilonka and the others know she was whole again. Although it isn’t explicitly stated, Anya did this to say that death isn’t something to be feared and is a return to peace and happiness free of pain and disease. Why Ilonka did not reach out to Ilonka in a more obvious way is not clear, but it does lend credence to the theory that Ilonka could not see spirits. She was just scared and medicated. Christopher Pike’s book, the series is based on, makes that clearer.
The five Greek sisters in The Midnight Club
One of the first stories told is about a former patient named Julie Jayne, who was dying of cancer and went missing one day. The girl showed back up one week later and was miraculously healed. This hopeful story wiggles its way into almost every aspect of the rest of the series. Ilonka doesn’t want to save herself so much as she does her friend Anya who seems to be the next to die. Ilonka believes in holistic medicine and, quite frankly, would believe anything if she thought it would help her friends. Julie’s story is the lifeline she needs; over time, she gains insight into what really happened to the girl.
The woman who runs the wellness company Good Humor next door tells her about five ancient Greek sisters of healing who have the power to cure her friend if a specific ritual is performed. These sisters are Hygieia, the goddess of cleanliness; Iaso, the goddess of cures; Aceso, the goddess of the healing process; Panacea, the goddess of universal health; and Aglaea, the goddess of good health. These goddesses were figures the Greeks worshipped, and the Romans had their own counterparts.
Ionka becomes convinced that these sisters and the ritual performed in the hidden basement of Brightcliff are the miracles they all need. But, as we later find out, this isn’t entirely true, and although the cult called Paragon, which first attempted these rituals, may have power, they do not agree with one another on how to use that power.
Who is Julie Jayne and Dr. Stanton?
The woman next door is Julie Jayne; the young girl healed after her week’s absence from Brightcliff. She convinced Ilonka to let her into Brightcliff to perform the ceremony. Unfortunately, Julie exploited Ilonka’s fear and nearly got her and four of her disciples killed before Dr. Stanton found her and called the police. Dr. Stanton claimed Julie was trying to heal herself because she had cancer again. She said what happened all those years ago was a simple miracle. She said they don’t happen very often, but sometimes they do, and it has nothing to do with cults or goddesses. Dr. Stanton also claimed that Julie being sick again was proof that there was nothing magical about the house.
Julie denies being a cult member beyond that of her commune. That is questionable, considering what happens later when Julie tries to poison everyone. Regardless of what is true, Julie believes in the magic of Brightcliff and doesn’t mind killing Ilonka if it means saving herself. That central theme of hope and acceptance makes The Midnight Club so powerful.
There is one final reveal at the very end of The Midnight Club. Dr. Stanton takes off her wig, and the camera zooms in on the back of her neck, which has an hourglass tattoo. Julie also had one and claimed it had nothing to do with a cult but was about the passage of time and symmetry. Sunrise and sunset, light and dark, as above so below. She was telling Ilonka everything she needed to know about her. To save a life, another is lost. Life will find balance, and Julie has no problem using what is convenient.
The implications of Dr. Stanton’s tattoo are more complex. We know from Julie’s flashback that Aceso, whose real name was Regina Ballard, was at odds with her daughter, Athena. Ballard/Aceso was placed in a psychiatric facility where she stayed for years. She may have been a true believer or a mentally ill woman. We can assume that Dr. Stanton is Athena, her daughter, and she has been battling Aceso for ages to protect mortality.
Whether that is a personal struggle or a greater one with implications for all of humanity, we do not know. Dr. Stanton frequently tells everyone that life and death both serve an essential purpose. Curiously in Homer’s epic works, he gives her the epitaph bright-eyed, which is interesting considering her institute is named Brightcliff. Dr. Stanton’s tattoo could have been put there by her mother or placed there during the period of time she was trying to save her son.
A final explanation could be that she is just a mom who attempted a healing years ago that didn’t work. We know that she had a son who died young from an illness, and that is why she started Brightcliff. She could be a goddess or a former worshipper. We have no context other than snippets of stories told by unreliable people. Julie lied multiple times to Ilonka, so she could have lied about most of her story.
One thing troubles me, though. When young Julie visits Regina Ballard, who claims to be Aceso, the older woman calls her Bright Girl. This is what Julie calls Ilonka. One final possibility and the most disturbing is that Aceso used Julie to obtain youth, and the person who returned to Brightcliff was Aceso, not Julie. Perhaps this is why Dr. Stanton remains so vigilant. Maybe there are ghosts in Brightcliff, and they speak to Dr. Stanton, letting her know that death is a part of living. It is as essential as living in the moment, and to refuse it is dangerous.
The Midnight Club is a beautifully crafted piece of horror that is as emotional as it is scary. The scares come from a place of inherent fear. Death, regret, disappointment, loneliness, pain, and guilt are the things that haunt us most at night. The young people of Brightcliff get clarity before they leave this mortal coil. That is probably what Dr. Stanton is most trying to safeguard.
The Midnight Club premiered on Netflix today.
As the Managing Editor for Signal Horizon, I love watching and writing about genre entertainment. I grew up with old-school slashers, but my real passion is television and all things weird and ambiguous. My work can be found here and Travel Weird, where I am the Editor in Chief.