Spike TV’s adaptation of Steven King’s 1980 novella The Mist opens with an overhead shot of a soldier (Okezie Morro) on a forest floor, jarred from sleep by the barking of a nearby dog. A dense fog, hiding mysterious and deadly creatures, envelops the bucolic Maine setting. As the man dramatically attempts to resist panicking, those familiar with the source material are likely to experience the triggering of an internal alarm, one unrelated to series creator Christian Torpe’s intentions. This scene doesn’t appear in the novella but nonetheless feels derivative, and the feeling of watching it unfold is informed not by dread, but rather a disappointing sense of recognition.
Of course, that feeling is in part a result of King’s story having already been adapted by Frank Darabont in 2007. Unoriginality is, in one regard, an unavoidable symptom of adaptation. The series does little to innovate in its presentation though, a fact exacerbated by uninspired storytelling and stock filmmaking. Even when it diverts from the original narrative (and it does so significantly), the results are rarely fresh. The pilot episode’s first shot is cribbed from shows like The Walking Dead and Lost, and films like Danny Boyle’s 28 Days Later. It’s the first of many clichés in a story packed with one-dimensional characters that behave predictably and speak in platitudes.
The Mist broadens the scope of the novella by adding a tragedy that precedes the arrival of the mist. The Copeland family is traumatized when the teenage Alex (Gus Birney) is sexually assaulted at a party. Her mother, Eve (Alyssa Sutherland), forbade her from going to the party, but her father, Kevin (Morgan Spector), secretly allowed her to sneak out. The fact of Alex’s assault adds little gravity to a story already concerned with the darkest elements of human nature, but The Mist unfolds as though we’ll be surprised to learn that humans are capable of cruelty. The novella slowly eroded the façade of civility between its characters, and treated the wickedness of humanity as something to reveal. That wickedness, though, is a mission statement in the series.
The Mist unfolds as though we’ll be surprised to learn that humans are capable of cruelty.
The atrocities that affect the Copelands seem designed to access the zeitgeist of 2017, and they’re presented with a distinct lack of imagination. The party sequence unfolds like an Afterschool Special, with each attendee a neat stereotype replete with predictable baggage, from the homophobic jock and entitled ladies’ man to the girls behaving with abandon and the young men leering from the periphery. Alex’s pansexual friend, Adrian (Russell Posner), is viciously bullied by a football player just moments after entering the party and moments before Alex will be swept off her feet by a handsome predator. Threats pervade the scene so completely that the inevitable tragedy is telegraphed to the viewer as soon as Alex is talked into taking her first drink. The party trips the same alarm as the show’s opening sequence, and triggers the same dread: that there’s nothing new at play here.
The Mist’s horror elements are as trite as its human drama, with characters dying by the familiar dictates of the show’s chosen genre. They venture outdoors when they should plainly stay put, and baselessly ignore warnings any sound person would heed. A police officer is killed when he lingers in the mist to take a selfie, in a scene that would likely elicit snarky laughter in a theater. When Bryan, the soldier from the forest, arrives at the police station and hysterically warns officers of the incoming mist, he’s cuffed and thrown into a cell. The officers’ actions here are unrealistic and inexplicable, beyond serving to parallel current events: Bryan is black, and when the police subdue and cuff him, the resulting image clumsily evokes #BlackLivesMatter.
The Mist’s grotesqueries fail to shock beyond their graphic distaste, mostly because they aren’t lifelike enough to be truly disturbing. When a nameless peripheral character has her jaw torn from her face, the visual is qualitatively gross, but the cheap effects on display are campy, not horrifying. Throughout, cheesy and excessive graphics blend with the show’s perfunctory moralizing.
The series at least makes a few interesting decisions that could pay dividends in the long term, beginning with the upending of the paternal drama in King’s story by trapping Alex and her mother at a mall. Also, the police station is an entirely new setting, where Kevin is forced to ally with Bryan and Mia (Danica Curcic), a fierce woman with a seedy background. These characters are without precedent in the novella or its film adaptation, and could imbue the story with a compelling freshness—that is, if they evolve as anything more than archetypes whose roots lie either in moralizing B movies or the nightly news.