The new millennium has gifted us with many great horror films, but few pack the sheer traumatizing punch of The Mist, director Frank Darabont’s 2007 adaptation of a Stephen King novella that was first made widely available in 1985’s Skeleton Crew. Darabont’s movie is a faithful take on King’s thriller, which is largely set in a Bridgeton, Maine, supermarket where numerous citizens hole up while a strange mist envelops the area, bringing with it horrifying H.P. Lovecraft-esque creatures. The real monsters in both King’s short and Darabont’s movie, however, are human, and reside inside the grocery store, led by Mrs. Carmody (played by Marcia Gay Harden), a religious fanatic who believes these events are a sign of the Apocalypse, and seizes control of the situation in murderous fashion. Only a truly evil person would spoil what follows, although suffice it to say, Darabont’s conclusion—not found in King’s original, but blessed with the author’s approval—is so cruelly judgmental and despairingly bleak, it more than earns the description “unforgettable.”
It’s in the shadow of Darabont’s decade-old masterpiece that Spike TV’s small-screen series The Mist premieres (this Thursday, 10/9c). And at least at outset, it finds itself somewhat wanting.
Created by Christian Torpe, the network’s King project doesn’t include any of its source material’s protagonists, instead focusing on a new collection of men and women who reside in a sleepy Maine hamlet now renamed Bridgeville. That’s a shrewd decision; a long-form narrative such as this is best off trying to thrive on the strength of its own unique individuals. The group we’re presented with is a suitably disparate lot, tethered together by proximity and beset by interpersonal tensions that, almost immediately, begin bubbling to the surface. They’re harried friends, relatives and neighbors, forced to contend with an emerging supernatural threat they neither understand nor are prepared to handle. What they are not, alas, is particularly interesting.
The Mist’s pilot opens with the image of a spider crawling over the face of a soldier sleeping in the woods. He awakens confused, unsure of his name (his wallet’s credit card informs him it’s Bryan) and hopeful that the dog sitting by his side is his own. Unfortunately for him, before he can get his bearings, he’s chasing the pooch into a fast-moving mist that’s spreading through the forest—and discovering the animal’s mutilated body hanging from a tree, its head lying on the nearby ground. That’s enough to let Bryan know it’s time to go, and he quickly sets off running to the closest road, which points him in the direction of Bridgeville, where he endeavors to find help while fulfilling his Paul Revere-ish duty to warn everyone that “It’s coming!”
As is often the case with such frazzled doomsayers, Bryan is quickly thrown in jail by the town sheriff (Darren Pettie). The Mist then turns its attention to Eve Copeland (Alyssa Sutherland), a schoolteacher introduced being placed on administrative leave because she dared to touch upon forbidden topics during her sex education lesson, much to the chagrin of certain starchy parents. Thus The Mist immediately establishes Eve as a liberal heroine beset by closed-minded conservative forces, and in the process, connects itself—spiritually, if not literally—to prior iterations of its tale. Still, while Eve’s two subsequent run-ins with a particularly nasty mother enhance that undercurrent, the show soon proves more concerned with her fraught private life with husband Kevin (Morgan Spector) and 16-year-old daughter Alex (Gus Birney).
Here, The Mist stumbles, failing to properly establish or develop the reasons that the couple are so at odds. Eve apparently resents Kevin for being the fun, indecisive parent, which forces her to be the hated disciplinarian, but there’s no sense of why that dynamic came about, or why she—a mother who seems devoted to her kid—can’t manage to get along with Alex, who unbelievably chastises her mom for her teenage reputation as the town “slut.” The effect is that these knotty problems, meant to be at the core of the show’s ongoing drama, feel strained and wobbly. The same goes for Alex’s friendship with Adrian (Russell Posner), to whom she turns when things at home get too messy. Adrian is the de facto “gay best friend,” a kid who proclaims that he’s more attracted to personalities than to any one gender, whose dad won’t speak to him at the dinner table so long as he’s wearing make-up, and who promptly attends a party where he’s bullied as a “faggot” by high school football jocks. It’s a fine if familiar characterization, but at least in the series’ first episode, it feels like a stock device, drained of any defining nuance.
What ensues is a rape crisis involving Alex and her quarterback crush Jay (Luke Cosgrove)—who’s the son of the police chief—as well as a random side story about a shady badass woman who’s involved in criminal trouble, and a few snippets about environmentally conscious Natalie Raven (the great Frances Conroy), who lives next door to the Copelands, and whose husband meets a grisly fate once the duo get lost in the mist. Oh yes, the mist! After an opening half-hour spent teasing its arrival, replete with flocks of birds and hordes of toads fleeing its onset, it finally shows up in Bridgeville, bringing with it swarms of insects—and, one suspects, far worse. For now, however, The Mist keeps its real creatures shrouded in mystery, the better to build toward (presumably) greater revelations down the road.
Setting up a variety of conflicts between left- and right-leaning characters, all of whom may be more morally compromised than they initially appear, The Mist seems, on a basic level, to be a show built for our current Trumpian era of political and cultural polarization. And dispersing its many players around town, all of them trapped inside various locales by the mist—including Eve and Alex, who wind up stuck in a mall with accused sexual predator Jay—it expands the sociological scope of King’s original tale in a manner more assured than that of CBS’s 2013-2015 King series Under the Dome. Yet for now, what it hasn’t done is provide a protagonist who might step up and become the truly compelling center of such a scattered scary story. Let’s hope, for its sake, a malevolent Mrs. Carmody-style zealot is on the hazy horizon.