Matt Reeves set the tone for Miracles, a supernatural and spiritual procedural series that’s full of the director’s trademark touches.
“What’s the point of faith if it’s never tested?”
“I’m beginning to think that we’re on our own down here…”
Matt Reeves has comfortably made a name for himself as not only one of horror and science fiction’s biggest filmmakers, but he’s gone on to become the guiding force behind the latest iteration of the cinematic Batman universe. Reeves’ directorial career has been allowed to thrive the most in film, but he has a history in television and was even the co-creator of Felicity alongside J.J. Abrams. Reeves has directed episodes of Felicity, Homicide: Life on the Street, and Gideon’s Crossing, but one of his most rewarding TV efforts is his direction for the pilot for Miracles, a short-lived supernatural procedural that under the right circumstances could have become the next successor to The X-Files.
Miracles has continued to slip through the cracks, even in cult circles. However, Miracles and Reeves’ pilot are now celebrating their 20th anniversary, which makes it the perfect time to check back in with Paul Callan and the Sodalitas Quaerito crew from this early gem in Reeves’ career.
Miracles was created by Richard Hatem (The Mothman Diaries) and Michael Petroni, but it was initially on the radar of so many genre fans because Angel’s co-creator, David Greenwalt, left the series to showrun Miracles. The supernatural series follows Paul Callan (Skeet Ulrich of Scream), an investigator of miracles for the Catholic Church, who experiences a life-altering event that sends him down a path of supernatural soul searching. Paul aligns himself with Alva Keel (Angus MacFayden of Saw III and IV) and Evelyn Santos (Marisa Ramirez) of Sodalitas Quaerito, an underground organization that works to prevent an impending cataclysm of darkness. Miracles borrows heavily from the storytelling structure of The X-Files where monster-of-the-week episodes mix with a grander serialized mytharc, which in this case involves warring sects of chosen people who have seen contrasting holy messages in blood: GOD IS NOW HERE and GOD IS NOWHERE.
Unfortunately, Miracles was canceled only six episodes into its 13-episode order, with low ratings largely being the result of the series’ preemption or episodes being outright dropped due to the growing coverage of the in-progress Iraq War. Ironically enough, Canada’s Vision TV–a religious channel–would be the first place to air Miracles in its entirety.
Miracles covers a commendable amount of territory across its 13 episodes, but “The Ferguson Syndrome” pilot functions as a powerful proof of concept as well as a story that fits nicely into Matt Reeves’ grander filmography. Paul investigates a young boy, Tommy Ferguson (Jacob Smith), who can seemingly heal others, albeit at the cost of his own health. It’s significant that Miracles begins with such a small-scale story about sacrifice that focuses on the human element of the spiritual and supernatural. Miracles touches upon ghost stories, stigmata, Bermuda Triangle-esque disappearances, and more, all of which could sustain a pilot and encapsulate Paul’s ultimate journey. “The Ferguson Syndrome” becomes such a promising pilot because Reeves magnifies the emotion between these flawed figures just as much as he embraces the horror of all of this.
Reeves’ work in “The Ferguson Syndrome” establishes the melancholy tone and visual style that carries over through the rest of Miracles’ season. In a procedural series of this nature, the pilot does all of the visual heavy lifting and it’s expected to build a necessary shorthand with the audience that they’ll begin to rely upon week-after-week. Reeves understands how to do this in a way that’s both familiar, yet different, in a strangely ethereal sense. It’s the perfect mix of sensibilities for a procedural that toes these extremes. Reeves wants to draw audiences in and lull them into a comforting sense of familiarity so that they’re ultimately easier to frighten.
“The Ferguson Syndrome” uses the repetitive nature of procedurals to inform and empower its subversive scares. It’s an added luxury that’s not present in standard police procedurals and it’s a quality that will likely be front and center in Reeves’ upcoming Penguin spin-off series that’s both a procedural and superhero horror story. There are easy parallels to draw between Miracles and William Friedkin’s The Exorcist, but Reeves goes so far as to pay homage to one of the classic horror film’s most frightening elements. Reeves bombards both Paul and the audience with quick demonic jump-scares that invade the character’s dreams. Joseph Williams’ score also feels intentionally reminiscent of The Exorcist and The Omen through its classical strings and ornamentation, albeit not in a way that feels derivative of these spiritual horror films’ music.
The bond between Paul and Tommy Ferguson that’s established in Miracles’ pilot looms over Paul for the rest of the series. Tommy’s whole “I think the darkness is something, too” monologue feels like it’s meant to hit with the same impact as The Sixth Sense’s “I see dead people” speech. It doesn’t quite reach the same heights, but it’s still a very emotional and unnerving scene that’s allowed the room to breathe as these two characters voice their earnest fears over the unknown. Tommy and Paul are decades apart in life, but equally conflicted over the universe’s uncertainties.
Bullying and its toxic consequences are themes that run through Reeves’ work, arguably most explicitly in Let Me In, but it’s also deep in the DNA of Miracles. Paul Callan was an orphan who came from a painful past and part of his connection to Tommy Ferguson is an effort to protect this innocent child from harm, even if it seems like the universe itself may be bullying him due to his unique healing ability. It’s Reeves’ tender interest in vulnerable children and those who try to protect them that adds an electricity to every scene between Paul and Tommy. It’s easy to see why Tommy appears several more times throughout Miracles’ run, albeit as a ghostly guide for Paul.
Reeves has spoken with a reverence towards the more human and grounded moments in The Exorcist between Regan MacNeil and her mother, Chris, before the movie’s terror truly begins. Reeves channels the same solemn energy in Paul’s extended scenes with Tommy and “The Ferguson Syndrome” doesn’t rush these moments. Reeves celebrates these interactions and makes them the centerpieces that they deserve to be, while other pilots would balk at lengthy static dialogue scenes. It’s almost like if Father Merrick were to check in with Regan on a weekly basis in an Exorcist TV show.
Miracles builds upon that holy protector aspect and really portrays it in a sacred light that resonates with Reeves’ filmography, even as recently as the reverence that’s held towards Batman during the flare-light escape sequence during the final act of The Batman. It’s an important human element that adds something extra to this pilot and is likely a major factor in why the series got made in the first place. Paul’s desire to help others is omnipresent through the series, but it’s most palpable and pure in this pilot, even if Paul does have to help other children throughout the season.
Miracles sets out to accomplish a lot in its pilot, but some of its most potent horror comes from what’s implied and the questions that it asks its audience to consider. Paul receives a modicum of closure when it comes to the Tommy Ferguson case, but it hardly offers the finality that’s present in comparable paranormal procedurals like The X-Files, Evil, or even Supernatural. If anything, it’s this lack of answers that pushes Paul to stray from his path and dig into territory that his faith has otherwise made impossible for him to acknowledge. Matt Reeves is a director who loves to take advantage of the unknown and allow the audience’s imagination to run wild and fill in his horrific gaps. It’s one of the greatest assets in Cloverfield, a kaiju movie that actively benefits and produces greater terrors from the structural restrictions of the found footage genre.
The same can be said with the time that’s spent between each of Reeves’ Planet of the Apes films. Details get filled in, but it’s the information that’s not provided that sometimes holds the greatest power. It’s infinitely more compelling to raise the question that Paul’s message was wrong, misinterpreted, or one of many rather than proving to audiences that he’s on a pious path of righteousness. The X-Files endlessly argues the idea that skepticism is healthy, but that “The Truth is Out There.” Miracles preaches a more complex philosophy where its main character doesn’t even have a proper baseline for what qualifies as the “truth,” let alone if it’s out there.
Reeves is interested in getting to the visceral nature of the very fears that define who we are and in that sense there’s nothing more terrifying than the complete abandonment of one’s entire belief system. “The Ferguson Syndrome” even begins to build a cynical angle wherein the people who genuinely want to help others are naturally distrusted. “Tell me, do you get paid by the miracle?” is pointedly asked in the Miracles pilot and it perpetually feels like the universe is working against its characters. This all makes their altruistic journeys that much more heroic and these underdog protagonists are another constant throughout Reeves’ work. Miracles’ Paul Callan is right up there with the desperate, but well-intentioned, individuals of Let Me In.
The Miracles pilot is thematically sound, but it also allows Reeves to show off his skills as a horror director. Paul’s nightmare where blood rains down upon him is really quite something and a sight to behold. It’s up there with some of the best stuff that Reeves has directed, despite it being hidden away in this series. It’s executed on a huge scale that’s comparable to Reeves’ cinematic efforts, which is typically only possible in a show’s pilot; which often has a larger budget than the standard episodes of the series. The train crash that becomes the payoff to this nightmare is also viscerally effective. At the time, it was incredibly jarring to watch a main character go through what appears to be a fatal accident in the show’s premiere. Paul doesn’t die, but it’s a beyond risky move that still bucks in the face of modern TV conventions of the time. This is still a year before LOST would contemplate, but ultimately decide against, celebrity stunt casting in its pilot purely for the manipulative shock factor upon said character’s sudden demise.
Miracles sets the stage for a fascinating spiritual series even if it doesn’t get to properly finish that story. In the end, these 13 episodes–but especially the series premiere–speak towards the overwhelming power of faith when believers are confronted with suffocating darkness. Miracles’ pilot even pushes Paul to resign from the Catholic Church once his level of belief supersedes what they’re willing to accept–a theme that’s also been prevalent with Mike Colter’s David Acosta on Evil. It’s an uplifting–albeit destabilizing–belief to reinforce with audiences, especially during a time in the world that would ironically enough become full of uncertainty and fear as the United States gets progressively lost in war. Paul cheekily jokes that the end of the world is on its way in the final minutes of the Miracles pilot, but it’s this very fear that led to persistent news interruptions that would help signal Miracles’ swift cancellation. Paul Callan’s spiritual muckracking was evidently too honest for its own good back in 2003, but now it feels like the investigative efforts of Sodalitas Quaerito would at least have a podcast or Subreddit full of committed, curious followers.
Miracles was the unfortunate victim of multiple circumstances that were beyond its control. However, it’s perhaps a miracle in and of itself that Matt Reeves’ energized, evocative direction not only shines through the darkness, but was also able to become a valuable turning point in the career of one of cinema’s most exciting modern genre filmmakers.
The complete 13-episode season of Miracles, including Matt Reeves’ pilot, are available to be watched online.