When Spike TV announced their series adaptation of Stephen King’s short story The Mist, it got people buzzing. The brief tale of survivors forced to watch from the windows of a besieged supermarket as a monster-infested fog overruns the world has made a heavy impact on horror fiction – particularly where video games are concerned. And after Frank Darabont’s 2007 film adaptation of the story with its notoriously brutal ending, it didn’t seem like there was much left to say about the property. Now that the first episode of the series has aired, with two more episodes already available on Spike TV’s streaming service, it is apparent that there are certainly new directions for this shrouded story to branch out into indeed.
The Mist stars Alyss Sutherland (Vikings), Morgan Spector (Boardwalk Empire), and Frances Conroy (American Horror Story) at the head of an ensemble cast, and it begins identically to its literary and film counterparts with a fast-moving, impenetrable mist engulfing a sleepy New England town. But that is where the similarities end. Tension escalates very slowly in this adaptation with an amnesia-stricken soldier (Okezie Morro) awakening in the woods to discover that something is very, very wrong. From there we see parents Eve and Kevin Copeland (Sutherland and Spector respectively) bickering over how to best raise their teenage daughter with disastrous results, and aging hippie Nathalie Raven (Conroy) seeking answers to the abnormal behavior of the area’s wildlife. By the time the onrushing supernatural cloud finally engulfs the town it is clear that it is a town with deep issues and deep grudges. This sets the series apart from other versions of The Mist which explore how rapidly the veneer of civilization breaks down in the face of disaster. The Mist series shows people already barely coping and having to rally when disaster catches them at their least prepared.
The other big difference in this version – and the one most likely to polarize fans – is that the famous monsters that defined the book and film are seemingly absent. At the very least they are being kept hidden for a big reveal later on. The mist merely served as a habitat for the animals that lived there, but here the mist itself is seemingly a hostile entity of its own, sending people visions and – as seen at the climax of episode 3 – visiting bizarre mutations upon the unfortunate. The series also looks to be setting up Project Arrowhead – the military initiative alleged to have accidentally created the mist – as playing a greater role in the story than it has in other versions. The off-duty soldiers are no longer the slightly-better informed bystanders they were in previous versions, but active instruments ready to kill and die to protect what they know. For all their influence, King and Darabont’s versions of The Mist were pretty straightforward horror stories. The show’s creators are ratcheting up the mystery angle of the story complete with ghostly visitations and messages frantically scrawled in blood
With no onscreen monsters to ratchet up the tension, the burden of carrying this complex tale falls upon the cast. Conroy is magnificent as always and her gentle character is beginning to undergo some pretty intense transformation even by the end of episode 3. Morro is quite compelling as a character in over his head in an ontological mystery. Spector’s character is ineffectual at just about everything he attempts, and his efforts to be a “cool dad” sets off a chain of ugly events that ultimately leave him separated from his wife and daughter when the mist arrives. It’s a thankless role, but Spector works well with what he is given. The strongest characters at this point are Sutherland as Eve Copeland and Gus Birney as her daughter, Alex. Eve is as potent and commanding as her daughter is frail and waifish, creating terrific counterpoints to one another in all their scenes and functioning as a believable family unit.
The most compelling character, however, is the mist itself, as it must be for any version of this story to work. It is a risky move to reinvent the mist as something entirely different than it has ever been before, and one with the huge potential to alienate the show’s built-in fanbase. But the goal is clearly to prevent viewers of the film or readers of the book from being able to guess what is going to happen and the show succeeds at that. Figuring out what the mist is and how it works is going to be as integral to the story as merely surviving or finding a way out of it. This does not detract from the show’s horror factor, however. Every bit of horror inflicted by the mist thus far has been inventively gory and gruesome. Whenever a character dies it truly feels sad regardless of how well we as the audience have gotten to know them. But for all that, the monsters of The Mist are popular for a reason and the show is going to have to deliver a payoff regarding them sooner or later.
Spike TV has taken a bombastic horror tale about human frailty and turned it into a complex supernatural mystery with the potential to develop an impressive myth arc… as long as the mist they are building up doesn’t get so thick that it makes them lose their way.