This image is from Netflix’s “First Look” at “The Midnight Club,” taken by Eike Schroter for Netflix.

Mike Flanagan and Intrepid Pictures are back once again with “The Midnight Club.” Flanagan has proved his mastery of the supernatural horror genre with “The Haunting of Hill House,” “The Haunting of Bly Manor” and “Midnight Mass.” His newest work, “The Midnight Club,” features familiar faces from his previous projects and follows in its predecessors’ footsteps, though not quite in the same way. 

“The Midnight Club” follows a group of terminally ill teens in the ’90s staying at Brightcliffe, a house turned into a hospice for young adults. Not long into the first episode, viewers are introduced to the “Midnight Club,” a group that meets at midnight in the library of the house to tell scary stories by the fire. When the newest patient at Brightcliffe, Ilonka (Iman Benson, “Creepshow”), hears about a previous patient that was cured in the ’60s, she becomes determined to be the second person to walk out of the hospice. She soon finds that her journey is going to be harder than expected and that Brightcliffe has more secrets than she thought.

There are two sides to “The Midnight Club”: First, there is Ilonka’s quest to uncover the truth about a possible cure to her cancer — one that involves the exploration of a terrifying cult and its associated rituals — and, second, there are the stories that the kids share. Of the two, the latter is definitely more interesting. For a show about kids who are dying, Flanagan does an incredible job of emphasizing life. These teens quickly realize through their stories and experiences that even though they might depart this world early, it doesn’t mean they can’t enjoy the things that make life worth living: family, friends, community and love. 

The short stories the kids tell are played out on screen throughout the episodes with the characters being played by the same teen actors in the Midnight Club, making for a short anthology within the season itself. Some of the stories serve as nothing more than a series of jumpscares to get your heart rate up (no seriously, episode one set a world record for this), while others are more touching and provide insight into a certain character’s background. One of my favorite stories is in the episode titled “Road to Nowhere,” told by Natsuki (Aya Furukawa, “The Baby-Sitters Club”), and serves as a deeply emotional exploration of her struggles with depression and suicidal thoughts. The execution of these stories — from the narration to the cinematography and special effects — was done masterfully in a style that screams “Mike Flanagan.”

On the other hand, the “supernatural” element of “The Midnight Club” felt half-baked. On her mission to find a cure, Ilonka discovers evidence of a cult that previously inhabited the Brightcliffe house, and she makes a friend in Shasta (Samantha Sloyan, “Midnight Mass”), a mysterious woman who lives near the house. Within the cult storyline, Flanagan throws in plot twists that are actually quite predictable to those who have watched his previous work, yet the “haunting” aspect remains unexplained. Ilonka starts seeing ghosts in the halls at night, reminiscent of “The Haunting of Bly Manor.” At first, these ghosts seem to have some sort of significance, especially after Kevin (Igby Rigney, “F9: The Fast Saga”), another teen living in the house, mentions that he’s been seeing something similar. Yet after the final episode ended, I found myself with no suitable answer for who those ghosts were and why they had any place in this show. It seems as though the supernatural elements of the show had no connection to the rest of the story, whereas in Flanagan’s previous projects, the horror was well-placed and integrated into the plot. Then again, “The Midnight Club” ends with a surprise plot twist, leaving the door open for a possible season two and a progression in the story. This kind of ending is uncharacteristic of Flanagan’s work, as his previous projects with Netflix have been one-season stories, but still just as exciting and effective as a cliffhanger.

The premise of “The Midnight Club” can be summed up in the invocation spoken by the members at the start of every meeting: “To those before, to those after; to us now, and to those beyond; seen or unseen; here, but not here.” This show is about stories. Stories that transcend through past, present and future. It’s about humanity, and exploring what may or may not happen after we die. Is there a heaven, or some sort of afterlife? Or is it just oblivion and endless darkness? Can we reach back to communicate with our loved ones? Or is it enough for us to live on in the love our friends and family have for us? 

Daily Arts Writer Swara Ramaswamy can be reached at swararam@umich.edu.