Midnight Mass: Bev Keane and the Horrors of Zealotry

Every character in Midnight Mass is a believer in something and most of them are cool about it. Riley Flynn believes he’s damned, his mother Annie believes he’s worthy of God’s love, Erin Greene believes everything happens for a reason, and Dr. Sarah Gunning believes in science. (My girl ✊) They won’t dump any of this on you unless you’re having a one-on-one conversation with them.

Everybody on Crockett Island is level-headed about their faith. Except Bev Keane.

Midnight Mass is full of superb performances, but the one I can’t stop thinking about is Samantha Sloyan. As the love-to-hate Bev, she’s ferocious without ever throwing a punch. The conviction in her eyes is low-key terrifying, and she’s not the literal monster in the story. She’s reckless and uncompromising in her beliefs. Her character might grate on us as viewers, but Sloyan’s performance is also spellbinding to witness. (Spoilers beware.)

St. Patrick’s church attendance has dwindled down to a loyal few over the years, much to Bev’s dismay. Riley’s mom, the wheelchair-ridden Leeza Scarborough and her parents are the ones who attend daily mass. A handful more go on Sundays. The rest turn up on Easter or Christmas. Bev knows this; she’s like a messed-up Santa Claus that way and will one day hold it against you. She judges EVERYONE based on their church participation as if faith is something that can be measured or given a rank.

Each character experiences a crisis of faith of some kind. Erin Greene will lose a child. Riley’s negligence behind the wheel claims the life of a woman – an event that upends his faith in God. Riley’s dad, in turn, loses confidence in his eldest son. Monsignor Pruitt, too, aging and ailing, finds his faith withering. Pruitt embarked on a retreat to the Holy land as a last-ditch attempt to rediscover his passion, and hasn’t been back since.

Bev never lost her faith, and that makes her belief in God all the more obnoxious.

When Erin Greene asks for another bottle of Windex in the school’s supply closet, Bev chastises her because Erin’s mother before her knew how scarce resources are on the island, and always stretched the cleaning supplies as far as she could. Bev speaks backhandedly, gets preachy over a damn recyclable of all things! (Ma’am, this is a Wendy’s.) It’s 1-v-1 conversations with Bev; her voice is her weapon, and the receipts of Crockett’s past are her ammunition. And if you think you can get a word in, she’ll drop holy bars on you straight from the Bible.

Erin and Bev are both steadfast in their faith yet exist on opposite ends of Crockett Island. Erin practices in solitude, whereas Bev ought to learn how to shut the fuck up. (Since we’re here, Bev would absolutely decry that as “censorship.”) Their verbal sparring in Episode 2 is a microcosm of Bev’s character throughout the series. In that same scene, she’s holding a can of poison which she’ll use to kill Joe Collie’s dog simply because it barked at her. Joe Collie, too, was responsible for Leeza Scarborough’s condition, so Bev feels justified in the act. She chides Erin over throwing away a plastic bottle, meanwhile she’s plotting to poison someone’s pet.

Riley does us a solid in explaining Bev’s zealous origins. He tells the newly arrived Father Paul about the oil spill that decimated the island’s fish stocks. When the company offered a payout to each resident, Bev not only goaded everybody in taking the money, but to consider giving to the church. Bev then used the donations to build the very rec center where Riley and Father Paul hold their AA meetings, and likely kept the rest for herself. Bev always has an agenda and it’s often between her and God.

Bev’s over-zealousness is amplified when the town witnesses a miracle at the end of Episode 2: Leeza Scarborough stands up for the first time since the accident that crippled her. In the middle of Sunday mass. While collecting communion. Bev, as you can imagine, becomes insufferable about the phenomenon, stating it outright. It’s NOT a triumph of science or medicine; it’s a miracle from God.

This emboldens Bev to hand out copies of the Bible at school. It’s not a religious school, mind you. When the debate between church and state arises, it becomes a standoff between Bev and Sheriff Hassan. Bev handed a copy to his son Ali, both practicing Muslims.

Hassan being the Sheriff, he quotes the law and states why it’s necessary to separate religion from education. But to Bev, the two are inseparable now. There is no going back after what she saw happen to Leeza. What good is any separation now that miracles are sprouting all over Crockett, where potentially newer books and histories will be written? The other parents start to agree.

Bev convinced herself long ago that everything she says and does is justified. Because it’s all in His name. God is her shield, her free pass, her personal crusade. The difference now is that Bev can cite the wonders of Crockett’s religious revival as “proof” that faith – that Catholic faith – can be rewarded.

Because it’s not just Leeza. Riley’s parents start to feel younger again. Dr. Sarah Gunning’s own ailing mother Mildred starts to look younger by the day, moving around the house more and recalling memories better. Father Paul might be at the root of these supposed miracles, but Bev makes sure everybody hears about it.

In some ways, Bev’s belief is stronger than Father Paul, who as it turns out, is Monsignor Pruitt resurrected. On his retreat to Jerusalem, the elderly Monsignor takes shelter in a cave where he encounters an ancient vampire. He’s attacked, near death, and is then revived by the vampire out of mercy. The creature’s lifeblood grants wonders not unlike Jesus, which is what leads Pruitt to blindly hailing the creature as an “angel.” (Let ‘em have this, he’s been through a lot.)

Monsignor Pruitt had become cynical at his old age, his body failing him, his hope fading. Only when he experienced a Christ-like resurrection that his faith was restored. Thus, he returns to Crockett to do the same for everyone else, and his heady and powerful sermons start to do just that.

Bev, in a way, doesn’t need to see an “angel” because she already believes in them without question—and soon there’s no questioning her or her belief in Pruitt. This is why I find Bev both so unsettling and infuriating, more so than Pruitt who smuggles the damn creature onto the island. There’s no alternative to Bev, no other interpretation or way of seeing things except hers.

As Pruitt’s proud mouthpiece, Bev becomes the gatekeeper of right and wrong. She judges Riley for what he’s done, but is morally okay with committing far more monstrous crimes. She says it’s okay to believe in whatever religion people hold dear, but never misses a chance to condemn other faiths. She says everyone is welcome, but constantly singles out the Sheriff and his son. To disagree or criticize her and the Monsignor is to criticize God. And how dare you criticize God?

She could be preaching a political ideology, or cause, or on behalf of a candidate, and the tenor of Samantha Sloyan’s performance would hit the same notes. Whoever she props up, she believes they’re above criticism no matter what, that they can truly “do no wrong” because they’re following the right cause. (Bev is totally on Twitter routinely posting, “Monsignor Pruitt is right about everything 😤”)

Bev Keane is what happens when belief goes unchecked and tips over into fanaticism. It overrides her ability to be objective. When Pruitt murders Joe Collie, Bev doesn’t call the cops nor holds him accountable for his crime. She reframes it as a moment of God’s doing. Collie is the town drunk who paralyzed Leeza, so in Bev’s mind he had it coming. She then orders the trusted few in their enclave to dispose the body. There is no line, no limits anymore. She’s Team Pruitt all the way, his most stalwart soldier and chief enabler.

They truly believe they’re spearheading a new religious era for Crockett Island. In reality, they’ve twisted St. Patrick’s into a cult. Halfway through the series, Pruitt’s speeches on the pulpit lose their passion. It’s no longer inspiring, but alarming. He talks of a spiritual war with casualties that it starts to sound frighteningly literal. Many are startled in their seats listening to this. But they sit and listen anyway.

Mildred Gunning, now able to attend the new Sunday mass, knows the difference between truth and propaganda, between sermons and indoctrination. She knew the Monsignor in her day; she doesn’t recognize the man standing before her. She tells her daughter to never go there again. Bev, however, has already persuaded everybody to come for daily mass.

That’s the scary part about belief. It’s open arms, open doors, and Jesus loves you. On comes the demagoguery, the scapegoating, the “us vs. them” rhetoric. The zealots barricade the doors but by then there’s no escape. You don’t notice they’ve spiked the Kool-Aid until you realize you drank it all.

In the end, Bev is exposed as a hypocrite. When she realizes that resurrection comes at a cost, she hesitates. She runs and hides. Cowers. She thinks she’s the righteous hand of God until she sees, finally, that her actions have consequences. (Fucks around and finds out, basically.) This makes her doubling down in the finale all the more inevitable, and fatal. There’s no back-peddling or admitting she was wrong because that would ruin her. She sees this through to the end.

Monsignor Pruitt, at least, will see with horror how his ego perverted the word of God. By then it’s too late and he resigns to his fate. Bev steps up, keeps spinning more religious nonsense all through the final moments. She tries to dictate who will survive the coming rapture. It’s not God saying so; it’s just Bev saying so. Her overzealous pride literally sets everything aflame and asunder, dooming everybody in the end.

Midnight Mass might have an ancient bloodsucking vampire at its heart of darkness, but that monster can only come out at night. It’s Bev Keane’s batshit zealotry that wreaks havoc on Crockett Island in broad daylight.

13 Scariest Movie Moments

Every October I revisit Bravo’s ‘100 Scariest Movie Moments’. This thing aired way back in 2004. Thankfully, it’s been reuploaded to YouTube so many times that I never forgot about it. It has since become part of my yearly Halloween ritual. I’m sure people have picked apart the rankings to death, but that’s missing the point; it’s an entire history of horror to sift through.

So I decided to go through my own bit of horror movie history. These are the moments from childhood til now that chilled me to the bone, shook me to my core, and had me turning on all the lights in my house – electricity bill be damned. I tried to narrow this to a list of 10 but I simply couldn’t make up my mind. With 13 days to go until Halloween, why not? Here are the 13 scariest movie moments that got yours truly:

13. The Empty Man – Followers in the field

I gotta give a shout out to The Empty Man. Dumped in midst of the pandemic and one of the last movies displaying the 20th Century Fox logo before rebranding as “20th Century Studios” under Disney, The Empty Man never had a chance. Fortunately, it’s finding a 2nd life and an appropriate cult following since it dropped on HBO Max this summer.

The Empty Man follows James on the search for a missing girl named Amanda. Days ago, Amanda and her friends called out to the mysterious “Empty Man,” an urban legend like Candyman or Slender Man. They all wind up dead, save for Amanda. James’ investigation leads him to the shady Pontifex Institute, and a wider cult surrounding the Empty Man. It’s here at an abandoned camp where director David Prior flexes some wicked horror muscles. James stumbles upon a field of followers chanting, grooving around a campfire. What starts out dreamlike and hallucinatory turns nightmarish, and it’s nothing but an army of silhouettes staring right back at James. To say more (and to say why this happens) would spoil the movie. The Empty Man is full of chilling images that have been seared into my brain. Think the lurid investigation of The Ring + the bleakness of Hereditary and you get The Empty Man. If that sounds like your cup of kool-aid, SEE IT.

12. Dawn of the Dead – Out for Ana’s neck

The first ten minutes of Zack Snyder’s Dawn of the Dead is a ferociously scary movie all on its own. You’re fooled into thinking that we’re working our way up to the full-tilt intensity of running zombies, like a roller coaster. After all, it’s Ana and her husband Lewis in bed in the morning. Surely we’re easing into this, right? HELL TO THE NAW. A zombie girl has gotten into their home (how? who gives a shit) and it’s hold on for dear life. You forget you’re on a fucking ROLLER COASTER. It’s what happens—or what becomes of Lewis after he’s been bitten that still scares the shit out of me. He’s Ana’s husband one second, then he isn’t. Snyder’s sly homage to The Shining here is where we get a closeup of both those reanimated eyes and that piercing zombie shriek. The opening credits couldn’t roll fast enough, though it was hardly a reprieve.

11. Texas Chain Saw Massacre – Hammer time

Tobe Hooper’s Texas Chain Saw Massacre was the first time that onscreen violence made me queasy. I grew up an action junkie so I was already exposed to violence. But since it was in slow motion or perpetrated by the likes of Schwarzenegger, Stallone, or Willis, I never gave violence much thought. Until I saw Leatherface bludgeon poor stumbling and bumbling Kirk. The combo shot of Kirk tripping as he steps into the house followed by the sudden reveal of Leatherface’s ghastly appearance, I was out in 60 seconds. The sound of hammer striking skull is visceral enough, but then we see Kirk twitching violently on the floor. I knew instantly why my parents, aunts and uncles fought so hard to keep movies like this away from me and my cousins—and why we were so fucking stupid for putting on the VHS late at night anyway. (Technically, it’s my aunts and uncle’s fault; they had the movie in their collection, we were just nosy.)

10. The Grudge – Under the covers

Yo fuck this scene. Say what you will about Hollywood’s Asian remake craze in the early 2000s, but it gave us The Ring and The Grudge. Whether you’ve seen the original or the American remake (or the Scary Movie spoofs that followed), you’re aware of the premise and the wide-eyed ghoulish imagery. Joke all you want but this shit here got me GOOD. In the bed of all places! It’s where we retreat to when we’re scared as kids, right? Underneath, it was free game for the bogeyman or whatever. But buried in our blankets, we were supposed to be safe and secure. To have that wielded against us is both brilliant and straight up fucking mean.

9. Scream – “What’s your favorite scary movie?”

There was going to be at least one Wes Craven moment. For me, it’s Scream’s unforgettable opening scene. Drew Barrymore is literally just vibing when Ghostface turns her world (and ours) upside down with a single phone call, and a single sinister question. The horror 25 years later is less about what happens to her. Because we know, since it’s been referenced and spoofed to death too. It’s how it happens that’s still so goddamn brutal. The kill happens swiftly, but her emotional torment is prolonged like a medieval torture device. It’s gut-wrenching, shocking, and – courtesy of the spoofs and homages done in Scream’s name – damned iconic.

8. Silence of the Lambs – Hannibal cuts loose

The mad genius of Silence of the Lambs is that it’s a slasher movie dressed as a prestige thriller. The trenchcoat comes off when Hannibal Lecter goes free. Along the lines of Texas Chain Saw Massacre, it’s another peek at violence that upended my insides. You don’t see Hannibal butchering the cops, though you see plenty enough. Anthony Hopkins bites one guy in the face, then beats the other with a nightstick. When reinforcements arrive, that’s when we see Hannibal’s horrific (angelic?) masterpiece of a disembowelment. Bryan Fuller’s Hannibal series makes this look like a child’s drawing, but being exposed to such macabre imagery for the first time, this was pure nightmare fuel.

7. The Blair Witch Project – Outside the tent

The fun of rewatching The Blair Witch Project is deconstructing the scares. It’s so obvious how they pulled this off; the film crew prodding and messing with the actors just outside. So really all the filmmakers shot was just a bunch of people scared inside a tent. And yet, this simple magic trick is nightmarishly effective 20 years later. I’ll never forget my siblings and I quieting down just to hear what they were hearing – an immersive quality that only added to the terror. You think you hear voices, maybe giggling; it’s all in darkness and the confusion is just enough for your mind to twist it into something inhuman. The rattling of the tent then happens so matter-of-factly. (Again, you can just picture the film crew surrounding the tent, shaking the whole thing.) RIP camping.

6. The Thing – Should’ve steered clear, doc

More than any John Carpenter movie, The Thing gets under my skin the most, and it’s because of all the practical creature effects on display—still god-tier nearly 30 years later. It’s sickening, it’s gory, and the stuff of otherworldly nightmares that would’ve made Lovecraft jealous. None more so than the defibrillator scene. You have no idea what’s going on at this point, who’s who, who’s human, what the alien is exactly, etc. You think Norris will come to, but you’re not quite sure. Then the motherfucker opens up, and I’ve never seen a more grotesque creature design since. It doesn’t stop with the torso! The freakin’ head melts off then sprouts like a Martian spider??? Germaphobes and arachnophobes probably went comatose during this scene. No offense to the Alien franchise, but I’d rather hug a Xenomorph than deal with this species.

5. Hereditary – Smiling in the dark

The more I watch movies, the less I’m jolted by stuff coming at us. I’m more startled by things that are just there, still, staring back at you. Hereditary’s second half is full of no-holds-barred frights. The one I gotta single out is near the end, when the Graham family tree converges on Peter once and for all. Peter wanders through the house in darkness, disoriented, when he spots a naked man lurking in the shadows behind him. Nothing is said, they’re staring at each other for what feels like an eternity, and the fucker is just smiling like a Cheshire cat. Yeah… it’s gonna be a hell no from me, dawg.

4. The Ring – Samara in crisp 4D!

You know the scene, I don’t have to set it up for you. (Just when we think the movie’s over…) My family rented The Ring and that made the movie even scarier. As kids, my cousins and I loved laying right below the TV set, feet propped up on the stand. When Noah’s TV flickers on and Samara started lurking closer and closer, yo we BOOKED IT across the living room. I’ve never flung myself from the screen with such urgency before or since. I knew something scary was gonna happen at the end as it happens in horror movies, but I didn’t think the girl was gonna crawl out of the fucking screen! The TV was my whole livelihood. Suddenly, I never wanted to turn on the thing ever again. The Ring might’ve been parodied to death like The Grudge and Scream, but nothing can dampen the cultural impact of this moment.

3. The Conjuring – The witch and the wardrobe

Of all the movies on this list, I’ve only seen 3 of them in theaters. (That’s right, my memories of these movies are purely through VHS or DVD.) The Conjuring is among the few I got to experience firsthand. So sure, I might be looking at this through rose-colored glasses. But what can I say? This terrified me into the stratosphere. If the teaser hadn’t spoiled the hide and clap scene, that would be my pick. What’s kinda funny about this scene is that this got spoiled in the main trailer too, yet no one saw it coming. James Wan’s clever tact and misdirection with the camera pays off fiendishly here. A simple pan upward boasts the unhinged power of the holy ghost. It’s the first time we see the witch and we pray it’s also the last time. It got a scream outta me and for that, James Wan, I thank you.

2. Evil Dead – Card trick

I didn’t see The Exorcist until much later so it was Evil Dead that gave me a crash course in demons and possessions. There’s a lot, A LOT in this movie that a child isn’t supposed to see. What scarred me for life is the scene where poor innocent Cheryl turns demonic. I had never seen a possessed face before so this right here was burned onto my irises. You don’t forget a face like that. I didn’t FOR MONTHS trying to go to bed. I hated cards, I hated magic tricks, and I hated my cousins for daring each other to sit through the movie. (Oh, the stupid games we play as kids.) Of course, I’d come to love the shit out of Evil Dead and Sam Raimi. But at the time, Evil Dead was the movie that had me routinely checking for demons underneath the bed.

1. JAWS – Shark in the pond

Growing up in the Pacific, the ocean becomes your first playground. I wanted to be at the beach all the time. My family went every weekend and I would stay in the water for 8 hours, no joke. I knew of JAWS but I never watched it from beginning to end. I don’t know when or why I eventually did, I just knew that I was ruined. This shot right here fucked me up, more than the opening kill, more than that doomed kid on the raft. Because up until then, you didn’t actually see the shark, not fully. This was all through Steven Spielberg’s genius of the camera and control of the frame. So when you get to a shot like this, you’re suddenly forced to contend with how big the shark is, how vast the ocean is, and how small we are—that we’re all just fodder in the end. The ocean was no longer a playground because it felt like a hunting ground.

This was the horror movie moment that rattled me forever. I never swam in the pool by myself, as irrational as that sounds. Even now, I can’t swim too far out in the ocean because I always have a sneaking suspicion that there might be a shark not far off, watching me. Spielberg, I just wanna talk.

So how about it? What are the scariest movie moments that traumatized you?

‘Midnight Mass’ and the Monologue that Shattered Me

No matter the medium or genre, you will always run into scenes with two people talking. Sometimes the talking serves a purpose, other times it’s a slog you have to get through to get to the more exciting bits. In writer-director Mike Flanagan’s stories, sometimes characters do nothing but talk—to the point that it’s become its own subset of memes.

Across The Haunting of Hill House and Bly Manor, characters often give deeper ruminations to a simple “how are you?”; they give you their whole life story in an anecdote, or drop some philosophical kernels to chew on for the rest of the season. This might make Flanagan’s latest, Midnight Mass, sound pompous and long-winded. But, to jump on Flanagan’s wavelength for a minute, don’t we all have a purpose? Aren’t we all searching for meaning in the vastness of the cosmos?

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‘Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings’ Review – A Thrilling Martial Arts Odyssey

How the hell do you introduce a new superhero this far into the Marvel game? This is something the MCU has to contend with as the roster gets bigger, and Shang-Chi is the newest member post-Endgame. For one, you stack the right talent: director Destin Daniel Cretton at the helm, a storied action cinematographer in Bill Pope, the late Brad Allan as fight choreographer, along with a dizzying who’s who of a predominantly Asian cast. Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings may be burdened with the standard grooves of an origin story, but it blazes past the stumbling block to the tune of a martial arts action romp.

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