This week, The Mist, originally written by Stephen King in 1980, and directed by Frank Darabont in 2007. With Frank Darabont’s new series, The Walking Dead coming out today, I thought it worthwhile to check out perhaps the least renowned of his movies, The Mist. It follows a group trapped in a supermarket as a dense fog surrounds the building. As strange creatures start to emerge, the survivors must fight for their lives and their humanity. It is based on a novella by Stephen King, which can be found in his collection Skeleton Crew. Darabont has focused virtually all his creative work around King. Considering how much the latter is known for creating fear, the former has focused in on his more dramatic titles, most famously in The Shawshank Redemption and The Green Mile. This trend is certainly not followed in The Mist, which is a straight horror through and through. The source material runs in at over two hundred pages, and is absolutely classic King. It has all the hallmarks; a strange religious vibe; monsters in the North-East small town America; excessive violence to the nicest of people. The biggest flaw in King’s writing has always been rambling tangents that leave the story far behind, and for me his best work always comes in at under three hundred pages. The Mist is a good example; this is a writer trapped in a corner, and as the mist descends, a chilling and exciting novella emerges. There’s no escaping the intrinsic silliness of monsters coming out the fog, and in the hands of so many the film adaptation would have descended into a camp disaster. Darabont is without doubt the best man for the job. He sticks fastidiously to the source material (except for one exception which I will get to later), and keeps in all the best moments from the book. However, this is not just an accurate translation, but a triumph in itself.
It is often said less is more when it comes to cinematic endeavours. Whilst, this might be true, crucially it depends on what 'less' you have. The Mist works because it focuses so much on the people. Whereas the obvious direction to take it is either a gorefest or a tedious two hour building of tension, it looks at how the human race copes under extreme pressure of a unknown and ridiculous threat. The main thrust comes from a woman; Mother Carmady, who is convinced the whole event is Armageddon, and slowly manages to turn a skeptical crowd into deranged occultists. Without giving anything away, her opinions can never be dismissed and her influence slowly grows. Chillingly, it suggests that although violence might not be the answer, it may be the inevitable consequence of a situation like this. There are no real heroes or villains, only scared human beings trying to make the right decisions. My one criticism is that the relationship between father and son isn’t explored as much as in the source material, and the mother being far, far away doesn’t raise as much concern as it should. That said, the acting is flawless, and considering the size of the cast every character is memorable and wonderful. Filled with jumps, surprises and tension, and an ingenious documentary style in the vein of Paul Greengrass, I cannot praise Darabont enough for turning this from an also-ran into a fantastic piece of cinema. Those looking forward to The Walking Dead should watch this and get very excited indeed. Sadly the budget cannot quite live up to this in the monsters themselves, which although pleasing are clearly low grade CGI. Yet it is a testament to cast and crew when they arrive we can be scared by them, and believe them as a realistic threat.
The real shocker comes at the ending, the first massive deviation from the book. I don’t want to give anything away, but it is an astonishingly brave choice by Darabont to change it as he does. It is so remarkable that the whole of this article could have been about it, and my opinions on it as a change from the source material. If pressed, I would have to say that I'm not that keen on it, but it is such a shock that you really have to see it for yourself. If I am brutally honest, neither is the film an absolute classic, and this is truer for fans of King than of Darabont. But both are just so solid in their deliverance that for anyone who likes this genre will get a great deal of enjoyment from book and film, not once but many times over. Verdict: The closest to a draw there has yet been in this series. The book wins by a paper margin, thanks to a better opening, a better relationship between son and mother, and the slightly ropey monsters in Darabont’s creation. If only all adaptations were like this.