The world of Stephen King is a rich tapestry of both human, real world emotion mixed with other worldly evils. No horror writer has more successfully scared yet captivated audiences as King has. This week we join the local residents of Bridgeton, Maine. What starts out as an ordinary drop in for some groceries quickly turns into something darker. This is my Sunday with… “The Mist”!
The Mist began life as a novella that Stephen King developed while, surprise surprise, food shopping after a large storm. This tells the story of townspeople who get stuck in a supermarket when an otherworldly Mist rolls into the town. The Mist soon is shown as masking horrible creatures that are quick to eliminate the survivors. As with most King works, The Mist on the surface is an otherworldly horror story, however there are much greater, deeper themes at work here. The themes of family and loss are at the forefront, as well as the underlying theme of being unable to fully trust the government or people in authority – mixed in with the dangers of religious zeal. The final outcome is a tension filled ride that puts the audience right in the supermarket and forces them to deal with the horrors outside. In 2007, The Mist was adapted for the big screen by King alum Frank Darabont. Darabont, who had previously adapted The Shawshank Redmption, as well as The Green Mile had plenty of successful experience bringing King’s work to the big screen, however this was his first foray into a more straight forward horror/sci-fi film. Darabont brought great story telling and character development and delivered one of the best King adaptations, both financially and critically, to date. Darabont kept King’s story pretty much intact, however adjusted the ending in a big way, something we will get into later on.
One of the best aspects of The Mist, both on paper and film, is the bare bones fact that the story is about people and how they react under a stressful situation. Both King and Darabont beautifully portray the different human characteristics that live inside of us, and that is some of us are cool and calm, and some of us are easily scared and nervous. The whole idea of “leadership” is played with here on a few different levels and it beautifully helps to segregate the people based upon their temperament and beliefs. One of King’s biggest credits is how he uses and develops his characters, often taking everyday people and crushing them under immense pressures and situations. Much like in real life, these situations bring out the “real” you. In The Mist we see who is a leader and who is a follower and that turns into a bigger point of tension than the monsters who are attacking. As with most of King’s work, and even Darabont’s for that matter (The Walking Dead) the real monsters to fear are people themselves.
The characterizations of the survivors themselves are a gathering of everyday people. We have the skeptics and the zealots, the soldiers and the workers, the red necks and the tourists and smack dab in the middle of them is David and his son, Billy; a father and son who just came to buy supplies after the horrible thunder storm the night before. What started out as a quick errand turns into something much worse as the supermarket and its inhabitants are surrounded by and eventually attacked by these horrible creatures. Watching David turn into the protector not just from the monsters but also from the people is one of the most gripping aspects of the story, because it is something that is absolutely relatable. The feeling of having to protect a loved one no matter what is something that lives in us all. David has to stay strong not just for his son, but the others who are counting on him despite being terrified himself – terrified not only of what he has seen, but also for his wife, whom he left home alone, and that all equals a griping character that the audience gets behind.
The opposite of David, is Mrs. Carmody. She is the embodiment of religious zealot, using this tragedy as a forum to not only preach about, but promote and recruit her “Old Testament” angry God. Mrs. Carmody views this situation as God expressing his unhappiness and the only way to appease this deity is by giving him a sacrifice. The scariest part of this character is how there are really people like this in the world. There is nothing wrong with faith or belief, however it is the dangers of taking every word or story as literal. We have seen this in the news, the Westborough Baptist Church is a prime example. Aside from the obvious dangers of this character, it is her effect on others that is truly terrifying. Carmody thrives in this hectic situation and is able to convince usually reasonable people into doing an unreasonable thing. Unfortunately, we also see this a lot in the world, the ability of certain people to emotionally prey on someone who is scared or hurting. Visions of redemption or grandeur are promised in return for these people giving into the recruiters personal agenda. Mrs. Carmody is essentially an emotional thief and recruiter, preying on weak and scared people. She is a monster with a human face and that makes her one of King’s most successful villains. As an added bonus, Marcia Gay Harden absolutely nails her portrayal of Carmody in the film. She is so infuriating that the audience cannot help but hate her, I know I did!
Now, let’s get to the monsters! The Mist hide all manners of creatures, each one more terrifying than the next. Jordu Schell, Bernie Wrightson, and Greg Nicotero all came on to adapt the rather vague visuals found in King’s novella for the big screen. CafeFX was the studio that brought the designs to life, and the outcome is a truly unique experience. The creatures themselves run the gamete from flying dinosaur like creatures, to gigantic octopuses. Each creature was unique and brought about their own difficulties for the survivors. One can’t help but be reminded of the ancient creatures of H.P. Lovecraft when reading, or seeing these monsters.
Frank Darabont kept very true to the source material all the way until the ending. This is where the great divide between fans of the novella and the film make their stand. In the original Stephen King ending, the fate of David, Billy, and the rest of the survivors escape the supermarket, they get into a car and drive into the mist. The ending is very ambiguous and left up to the readers imagination. The film however is much more definitive and provides one of the most gut wrenching, heart breaking climaxes in film history. As in the novella David, Billy and the survivors escape and drive into the mist. However, here we follow the survivors until they run out of gas. With no end to the mist in sight. David has to make a decision on what to do. The group all willingly opts for suicide not seeing any point in going forward, the only issue is there are not enough bullets for everyone. David decides to make the sacrifice and brave the mist, giving the others and his son included the release of death. This recap does little to garner the claustrophobia and heart ache of the scene as it was portrayed. Huge respect goes out to everyone involved, especially Thomas Jane who truly made the audience feel the weight of the situation. After the deed is done, the mist recedes as the army is seen clearing the road, seemingly restoring the norm. This makes the dire situation David just endured even more heart wrenching as he was mere moments away from salvation. This scene in all its horror truly brings to the surface David’s character, not only as a protector for the survivors and his son, but his willingness to save them from what seemed like a dead end situation. This climax is uncomfortable to watch and even harder to get through, but I personally loved it. It was shocking and emotional and put an exclamation point on the hopelessness those trapped in the mist must have felt. Fan reaction is quite split on this ending, however I am in good company for preferring it over the novella. Stephen King himself has gone on record as saying “Frank wrote a new ending that I loved. It is the most shocking ending ever and there should be a law passed stating that anybody who reveals the last 5 minutes of this film should be hung from their neck until dead.” I would definitely call that a rousing endorsement!
In its run The Mist made over $57 million and was met by very positive reviews. Both the novella and the film are powerhouses that deal with hefty human emotions as well as the concept that the real monsters are hiding inside of us. A ten part miniseries has been ordered by Spike tv and is set to debut this summer. The Mist is not only an ingenious novella, but also one of the best adapted King story to film to date; definitely worth the read and the view.
(Rob Texter – @GrundyXIII)