A star rating of 4 out of 5.

Mike Flanagan has built a reputation at Netflix for crafting horror with a heartbeat, but The Midnight Club is perhaps his most affecting work to date. The series draws great poignancy from its characters, a group of terminally ill teenagers receiving palliative care at a specialist hospice.

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Each one is superbly well-realised with their own unique and carefully plotted backstory, which is gradually revealed to the viewer across an emotional 10-episode season. Ironically, the weakest thing about this horror series is the horror itself. After all, what could be scarier than facing one's mortality?

Inspired by the works of novelist Christopher Pike, The Midnight Club begins with academic high-achiever Ilonka (Iman Benson) moving into a bespoke medical facility after developing advanced thyroid cancer.

But her decision to spend her final days here extends further than the dignity and relative freedom promised by founder Dr Georgina Stanton (Heather Langenkamp). Ilonka is fascinated by the property's former owner, a death cult, and a patient from decades ago who made a seemingly miraculous recovery – one she hopes to replicate.

This main plot is supplemented by a series of short stories that the patients tell each other in the dead of night – a tradition known as The Midnight Club – which are usually, but not exclusively, of the spooky variety.

It makes for an engaging narrative structure, juggling the anthology format of American Horror Stories or The Twilight Zone with an ongoing thread. That said, the two can't be considered entirely separate as the yarns spun are often linked to the lives of our characters, deftly revealing motivations, desires, fears and past traumas.

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Of course, any story is only as good as the person telling it, so it's quite fortunate that Flanagan has assembled a stellar ensemble cast of largely unknown actors for this piece. Benson is strong in the lead but co-star Ruth Codd is an absolute scene-stealer as spiky roommate Anya, for whom illness is the latest in a long line of gut-wrenching tragedies.

Another standout is Chris Sumpter, who brings his all to the role of Spencer, through which the series offers a sensitive portrayal of AIDS and the terrible treatment faced by sufferers in the 1990s.

(L to R) Sauriyan Sapkota as Amesh, Chris Sumpter as Spencer, Igby Rigney as Kevin, Adia as Cheri, Annarah Cymone as Sandra, Iman Benson as Ilonka, Aya Furukawa as Natsuki in The Midnight Club
Sauriyan Sapkota as Amesh, Chris Sumpter as Spencer, Igby Rigney as Kevin, Adia as Cheri, Annarah Cymone as Sandra, Iman Benson as Ilonka, Aya Furukawa as Natsuki in The Midnight Club. Eike Schroter/Netflix

He finds himself locking horns with devoutly religious Sandra (Annarah Cymone) in just one of the fascinating relationships explored over the course of the series. Sauriyan Sapkota and Aya Furukawa are another brilliant pairing, while Midnight Mass carryover Igby Rigney and newcomer Adia also deliver nuanced, enigmatic turns.

Impressively, every member of the cast takes multiple roles across the season as the Midnight Club's short stories are cinematically put to screen. For the most part, they're able to disappear into these alternate personas, even when there are clear parallels to their primary characters.

While varying in quality, the short stories are a great device and run the gamut from creepy to absurd to genuinely moving, which keeps the series feeling fresh and exciting.

It's the main plot that lets the series down, with Ilonka's nightmarish visions of two ghoulish figures stalking the hospice striking as little more than a flimsy excuse to hit the jump scare quota. That this storyline has no satisfying resolution, and in fact feels entirely forgotten towards the end of the season, only adds to the feeling that it could have been trimmed down or scrapped entirely.

(L to R) Igby Rigney as Kevin, Iman Benson as Ilonka in The Midnight Club
Igby Rigney as Kevin and Iman Benson as Ilonka in The Midnight Club. Eike Schroter/Netflix

Ultimately, what will keep you watching The Midnight Club is not some daft conspiracy enshrouding the grounds of the estate, but the richly developed characters who live there. It's a shame that Flanagan and co squander some of their runtime in service to this sub B-movie premise, but to their credit they never lose sight of the underlying tragedy that underpins this show.

The Midnight Club is by no means a bleak watch – it actually has a sharp sense of humour – but its lighter moments feel terribly bittersweet, often accompanied by subtle reminders that, for this group, there may be few more to come.

It makes for a weepy finale that is disappointingly cheapened by a lame attempt to set up a second season. However, if that follow-up never materialises – Netflix is pretty trigger happy these days – I won't feel the usual frustration at being cheated out of answers.

That's because the value in The Midnight Club lies not in its central mystery but rather with its eight members, whose personal stories (both imagined and experienced) are thought-provoking, emotionally charged and likely to stick with viewers for some time.

The Midnight Club is available to stream on Netflix now. Check out more of our Fantasy coverage or visit our TV Guide to see what's on tonight.

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