This is rare, nuanced storytelling, anchored by one of Brad Pitt’s career-best performances and remarkable technical elements on every level. It’s a special film.
Spike TV’s “The Mist” should check all of my boxes. Up until a point in the mid-‘00s, I had ready every single book and short story written by Stephen King. I’m something of a sucker for horror Summer TV guilty pleasures—I’m probably the only person you know who watched every episode of “Harper’s Island” and MTV’s “Scream.” And so the new adaptation of “The Mist” should be right in my wheelhouse. And yet there’s something not quite right about this premiere, including what feels like a misinterpretation of the source material and relatively low production values. I’ll keep watching—and I truly wish I had more than one episode to review to see how it shapes up—but I’m not sure it’s a guilty pleasure I'll be proud of.
A soldier wakes up in the middle of a forest, uncertain of where he is or possibly even his own name. There’s a dog with him, who he immediately takes as a loyal companion, and then we watch get gutted by something in the mist. “The Mist” immediately removes all question of threat from the title creation and brutally kills a dog in the process. Some people will check out right then and there. The purpose is obvious—horror movies and shows need to open with a gotcha moment—but this one doesn’t work and sets the program off on a wobbly footing right from the beginning.
As you might imagine, the horror aspect of the program then fades into the background a bit as we meet the rather-large cast of characters. Unlike the Frank Darabont adaptation of the short story, the characters in this iteration end up in various locations instead of one, all trapped by the mist but also separated from loved ones. A few end up at a mall; others at a police station; and so on. Before that happens, there’s a high degree of drama from a rape accusation at a party, a woman with a mysterious past who picks the worst day to return to town, and more plot details designed to create heroes and villains, with each location getting a relatively equal amount of both categories.
The film and book versions of “The Mist” are about paranoia and how stress impacts human relationships. The TV version of the “The Mist” is about flesh-eating bugs in the mist. It might be about more than that, but the degradation of the concept in the premiere is disappointing. It’s one of those programs that shows way too much and doesn’t allow for tension to build. We see the impact of the mist way too quickly for a show that now has to maintain suspense over the course of a season. And the special effects are too thin to be actually terrifying. Given the understandably low budget, it would have been smarter to play with the unknown enemy in the mist instead of making such a literal horror show.
It doesn’t help that the script is also remarkably thin, and I don’t see the characters getting more interesting as the show has to focus them entirely on survival now. If you’re going to spend the first hour of a show like this one building up the cast of characters, you need to do it in ways that feel less two-dimensional than the premiere of “The Mist.”
About halfway through the premiere, I had a flashback to the era of Stephen King mini-series, adaptations like “Storm of the Century” and “The Langoliers.” Long before the rise of horror on cable television in shows like “The Walking Dead,” these were the guilty pleasure way we got our Stephen King fix between books. The acting was always a bit better than average even if the production values were weak, but it was primarily the source material that made them work. The creators of “The Mist” would be wise to go back to those templates here and reconsider why people love this story in the first place—it’s not because of killer bugs.
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