In Netflix’s The Midnight Club, a terminally ill girl meets a group of kids that will forever change her life… whatever’s left of it, at least.
Based on Christopher Pike’s 1994 novel — and co-created by The Haunting of Bly Manor vets Mike Flanagan and Leah Fong — the story centers on eight ailing teenagers who reside at Brightcliffe Hospice, “a place for terminal teenagers to transition on their own terms.” Upon arriving at Brightcliffe and meeting her sick peers, thyroid cancer patient Ilonka (played by Alexa & Katie‘s Iman Benson) is welcomed into the titular club, which meets at midnight to tell sinister stories and look for signs of the supernatural. And that’s when things start to get freaky.
It’s 1994 Sacramento when we first meet Ilonka, who’s preparing her salutatorian speech for graduation. But while crashing a college shindig, she begins to cough blood and starts to panic. She sees visions of a hooded figure and an elaborate mansion before passing out in the bathroom.
In the very next scene, a doctor diagnoses her and orders a thyroidectomy. She asks if the odds are in her favor, but Doc says it’s not that simple. All Ilonka can think about is attending Stanford in the fall, but nine months later, it’s her 18th birthday, and she’s in a hospital and bald. The tumors in her lungs didn’t respond the way the doctor had hoped, and unfortunately, the latest news is that she’s terminal.
That night, she hops on the internet (whiny, screechy AOL-sounds and all — today’s kids will never know!) and finds a site for Brightcliffe, the building she had a vision of the night of the party. She gasps at its picture. She then finds a story of a young girl, Julia Jayne, who went to Brightcliffe and was cured of cancer. When she tells her foster father that she wants to go there, he doesn’t respond well, but alas, he relents.
When they arrive, Ilonka walks up to a boy on a bench, Kevin, who’s afflicted with leukemia, and shortly after, Mark, a nurse practitioner, greets her outside. After a bit of small talk, she sees an old, ghostly woman and faints once again. She wakes up in Dr. Stanton’s office (played by Nightmare on Elm St. vet/horror legend Heather Langenkamp). Stanton lost her son to cancer. She tells them that Brightcliffe is about taking a break from the battle, and learning how to live in the moment. Of course, they’ll try out some new technologies and treatments in the process.
A guy named Spence continues Ilonka’s “ghost tour,” which includes a stop to meet Natsuki, Sandra, Amesh and Cheri. Spence and Amesh bring her to her room, but her roommate Anya is M.I.A. While unpacking her things, she finds a pentagram sketched underneath her bed. As she’s investigating, Anya, a wheelchair user who’s missing one leg below the knee, arrives. The weird markings are from a former inhabitant who was into Wicca before she passed. Anya is sarcastic and short, and soon enough, she wheels out of the room.
At dinner, Sandra and the rest of the group are welcoming to Ilonka. Anya regales a tale about how Rachel (the former roomie) claimed a dark shadow was following her before she died. Kevin says Rachel was on a lot of drugs before her death and was merely hallucinating. (Since this is a Flanagan show, we know that’s not the case!)
In the middle of the night, Ilonka follows Anya, who rolls her way to the elevator and goes down. Anya enters a door. Amesh follows. The group is gathered in the library in front of a roaring fire. Natsuki is telling a story about a guy walking home at night who feels like he’s being watched. Shortly after, he’s tortured by a creepy ghostly presence that starts to attack him from all directions. (Insert one million jump scares HERE.)
Ilonka knocks a book off table, accidentally making her presence known. She’s told that they call themselves the Midnight Club. They gather to tell stories and “make ghosts,” because that’s “all any of us are in the end.” They force her to sip some wine. She does so, then takes a seat. Ilonka tells the story of Julia Jayne, the 17-year-old who wound up at the hospice to “wait it out.” One year after her diagnosis, she figured it would be the date of her death. That night, she swore she heard someone calling out to her, and the next day, she was nowhere to be found. She was a sleepwalker, and they worried she got out at night and walked over the cliff. But a month later, she reappeared in the lobby and fainted. She claimed to never have left the house. After the disappearance, her tumors shrank, then disappeared. She was going to live. But before she left the hospice, she began to recite numbers to some of her housemates. The numbers turned out to be the exact dates of their deaths.
“So what happened to her?” Natsuki asks.
Ilonka refuses to finish the story until the club comes clean. Anya says the group all agrees that whenever the first one of them dies, they have to try to make contact with the rest to let them know what to expect when they die. Ilonka says she can share many other stories about Brightcliffe’s former residents, and promises to uphold their pact if they’ll have her.
“You don’t have to be such a drama queen about it,” Anya says.
Ilonka later tells Kevin that she made up the story, but Kevin remembers Julia’s name from a picture in the hallway. So what part of that was made up? Ilonka shares that Julia did disappear, but only for a week. She returned in remission. Clearly, Ilonka’s hopes are high. “I’m going to live,” she tells him.
She bids Kevin goodnight, walks down the hall and turns the corner. As she disappears out of frame, an ominous black shadow follows her.
So what did you think of The Midnight Club‘s first entry? Grade the premiere below, then let us know in the comments!