The Mist: from Short Story to Pure Shakespearean Tragedy
The Mist is based on the short story by Stephen King. The story originally appeared in a horror anthology entitled Dark Forces (1980), but most readers would probably have read it in King's Skeleton Crew (1985). To coincide with the movie a novella has also been published.
For those of you who have read the story this movie will seem like a dream come true. As avid Stephen King fans, we all can agree that the movies made from his stories and novels generally lose a lot in translation. The Mist is almost entirely faithful to the original story, and we will address the main difference later. Most of the differences are trivial- David Drayton (the main character played by Thomas Jane) uses a cell phone to light up the back room of the general store, for example, but nothing of consequence. A happy surprise was the artwork that Drayton was working on: some of his paintings are for the Dark Tower series (hopefully an indication that a movie is forthcoming?)
The entire story is recreated masterfully, thanks to the vision of Frank Darabont. If you recall Darabont was responsible for two of the best Stephen King film translations of all time: The Shawshank Redemption and The Green Mile. Darabont was nominated for an Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay for both of those films, and The Mist is exactly as you would expect from someone of such credentials. The original story is reproduced almost line by line, exactly as any King fan would want to see it done. For those who have not read the story, the plot is relatively simple. A group of shoppers get trapped in a grocery store when it is discovered that there are monsters in the mysterious mist that suddenly appeared one morning across the lake. Evidence as to the cause of this mist points to the mysterious "Arrowhead Project" that was underway at a nearby military base.
Desperate times create desperate people. One of the greatest things about The Mist is that it does a spectacular job at showing how humanity can break down when survival is the main objective and fear overcomes rationale. The shoppers segregate themselves into groups. The first group follows Drayton's lead as he tries to think of an escape plan while the other follows Mrs. Carmody, a fanatic Christian who believes in the wrath of God played perfectly by Marcia Gay Harden (Tim Robbins' wife in Mystic River, Nancy in Mona Lisa Smile, etc.) She essentially creates a cult in the store, and they begin making demands to appease God during what she believes to be Armageddon.
This film brings up the very real problem of religion in our times. Its exploration of the dangers of religious fundamentalism is as relevant today as it was in 1980 when the original story was first published. Christian fundamentalism is just as real and scary as any other, and King is a master of bringing out the worst in his characters. Darabont does a perfect job of bringing to the screen this idea that humanity can lose all civility under duress and when offered salvation, a kind of modern-day Lord of the Flies with grown-ups.
The special effects are beautiful. At parts the monsters are not the most realistic-looking you will ever see in a film, but The Mist will totally immerse you in its story to such great depth that none of that will matter. The monsters are recreated almost exactly as you pictured them from the book. My personal favorite is the scene at the end of the story in which Drayton and the survivors are heading Southbound in search of hope. King writes of a Brontosaurus-like monster crossing the road. At the end of the film when that scene is brought to life on screen and we finally see that monster in particular it will knock the wind out of you. The feeling of despair and utter hopelessness at that moment hits you in a way that the written story alone couldn't.
Throughout the movie the suspense builds perfectly, many thanks to the music of Mark Isham and a song by Dead Can Dance. The music alone is worthy of an entire article on its own. It's as if Enya were trying to make you feel nauseous. It is kept to a minimum, so as not to overpower the sentiment of the film. The use of a deep resonating bass at critical points actually makes your guts reverberate. The effect is maddening. The reaction is one of sheer despondency. The use of "The Host of Seraphim" by Dead Can Dance, with its chill-inducing chanting, seems like a requiem for mankind.
The only major deviation from the original story is the ending. Oftentimes it is for the worse when a movie changes the plot of a book, let alone the ending, but the revised ending to this one is magnificent. In this case Stephen King actually praises the new ending, and says in an interview with USA Today that Darabont's ending is "so unsettling that for many years no studio would touch it." I won't spoil anything here, but the ending left me reeling. It took a wonderful story by a horror master and transformed it into a genuine Shakespearean Tragedy.