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The Mist

What to expect from the TV rework of Stephen King’s The Mist

Unpacking the horribly timely tale of what people resort to in moments of desperate, blood-curdling fear

In Stephen King’s 1980 novella The Mist, a mysterious fog descends upon small-town America; interdimensional low-hanging clouds engulf Bridgton, Maine – containing otherworldly horrors and beasts. Adapted for television, The Mist premiers its ten-episode run on the US channel Spike TV June 22. Two trailers for the series suggest the adaptation will be a little divergent from the source text, with new locations, and an implication the mist is sentient – a whole new monster.

Caused by a malfunctioning military operation by a shady government project, in King’s novella, the bulk of the action happens in a supermarket. David Drayton, his son and other shoppers are trapped inside after a man runs into the store, howling “there’s something in the mist!” – in what transpires to be an understatement of gratuitous proportions.

Remaining inside the supermarket for a couple nights, the novella details this makeshift community’s response to the terrors that ensue. A swarm of digestive tentacles tries to eat them. Four-foot flies with “burnt-flesh” hides and eyes protruding from their heads dive bomb at night. A trip to the chemist reveals giant spiders garroting human prey with acidic webs. This is a High Stress Situation. Transporting the action out of the supermarket and redistributing it across multiple locations in the town, the teaser trailer for the TV show features scenes in a church, shopping mall and hotel room – the television reboot appears to offer a more expansive take on the work, while retaining the claustrophobia innate to the novella.

Like much of King’s work, The Mist affects both pulpy potboiler and societal allegory; with all the trappings and hammed-up scares of supernatural genre-fiction, coupled with the tensions of a group of people gradually abandoning behavioral norms. The group schisms into magical-thinkers and pragmatists; the pressure stultifying and panic-inducing. Reminiscent of (and in moments consciously invoking) The Exterminating Angel – Luis Brunel’s devastating satire, concerning a lavish dinner party after which guests are inexplicably unable to leave, trapped in their host’s music room. Dismantling bougie social codes, the guests soon devolve to savagery: retreating into cupboards to defecate and demanding human sacrifice. While there is, gracefully, none of the former – demands for human sacrifice are made as the mist shows no signs of dissipating.

“King understands the violent desperation of terror, the ripping of control and fervour to grapple some back”

Religion is a pervading theme in The Mist, one that appears to have carried over to the series, with characters proclaiming “it is judgement day” and “your god is not here”. In the novella, a small group of people listen to the preachings of Mrs. Carmody – an evangelist claiming the mist is god’s punishment for sex and stuff – the group growing larger as desperation sets in. Dubbed the “flat-earthers” and led by the menacingly galvanising Mrs. Carmody (who is sadly missing in the series) – religion and its extremes becomes a malevolent force – redistributing power to the tyrannical, offering answers where there are none. King’s work is readily synonymous with fear, though mostly as the harbinger of it – with little credit given for his quick, psychological profiling; he understands the violent desperation of terror, the ripping of control and fervour to grapple some back.

A low-key feminist, one of the more memorable aspects of The Mist is the way King writes misogyny as an almost default mode of this sort of petrified, collective mentality; women are slapped around the face for hysteria, called cunt, witch, whore. “Take away food, take away water, people start doing bad things” says cognizant lady in the trailer, punctuated by a series of grisly and vicious acts.

The Mist was previously adapted as a film in 2007, by Frank Darabont, who directed two earlier films of King’s works: The Shawshank Redemption and The Green Mile. Both themed on the redemptive qualities of faith and hope – Darabont’s take on The Mist makes for a rapid backpedaling of that thesis; offering a bleak and utterly hopeless (but very stylish) film – with one of the most nihilistic endings in cinematic history. Darabont’s elegant direction and uncompromising plotting lent the film something of a cult status. While the subtext of group, fascistic mentality is a little ham-fisted – there are some moments of distinct beauty; and it’s a hell of a scary film.   

The Mist is one of three current Stephen King reworkings – with Nikolaj Arcel’s adaptation of The Dark Tower released in cinemas August 18 and Andres Muschietti’s adaptation of IT coming September 8. There is evidently something resonant about King’s preoccupation with primal fears; of unknown, apparently malignant forces disrupting ordinary lives. In an interview with The Boston Globe, The Mist’s showrunner Christian Torpe said: “We have this strange, abstract fear right under our skin, pulsating, that needs an outlet. And so, we start seeking answers in strange places and start believing people who claim they can provide an answer to things there may not be answers to.” The Mist’s brutal and bloody aesthetic feels horribly relevant: delineating the terrible things people do when they’re afraid.