The Mist, in its original Stephen King novella form and in the 2008 film by Frank Darabont, is an elegant little capsule of terror. The original premise – take a bunch of people from different backgrounds, cram them in a supermarket together and make them fight monsters – is simple but flexible enough to create endless opportunities for psychological and physical thrills. That premise working in a longform medium like television was always going to be tricky, which is why the new Spike series opts to take a more “inspired by” approach when adapting King’s story anew. As a TV show, The Mist drops the supermarket setting and instead attempts to paint a portrait of an entire town beset by darkness from within and without. If all goes well, it could be an addictive combination of horror, family drama and conspiracy thriller.
Unfortunately, the premiere episode is shakier than that. It’s not without its charms and moments of real horror but The Mist, at least in its TV form, doesn’t yet live up to its source material’s promise.
The titular cloud of fog with death and terror lurking inside it arrives almost immediately in the new Spike series, overtaking a lost soldier (Okezie Morro) who wakes up in the woods with no apparent memory of how he got there. It’s immediately clear that this version of the mist has some kind of direct mind-altering affect on its victims. Naturally, violence is also still lurking inside as well. After a truly unsettling incident of animal mutilation, our soldier is off and running to the nearest town to warn people. Then the mist fades into the background for almost the entire episode.
The rest of the premiere’s runtime is devoted to establishing several major characters and how they relate to each other in this idyllic little New England town. There’s Eve (Alyssa Sutherland), a teacher at a local school who was just fired for showing her students condoms, her husband Kevin (Morgan Spector) and their daughter Alex (Gus Birney), who’s doing a bit of joyless teenage romance and partying when we meet her. There’s Alex’s best friend Adrian (Russell Posner), a misunderstood kid who wears eyeliner, is openly bisexual and might be the only person having any fun on this show. There’s Connor (Darren Pettie), a local cop who likes to slam suspects into cell walls, and his son Jay (Luke Cosgrove), the star quarterback. There’s Mia (Danica Curcic), a criminal on the run for reason we have yet to learn. She loves to say “fuck” even though Spike has to censor it every single time (and yes, that does get grating). Then there’s Natalie Raven (the great Frances Conroy), a nice old woman who loves working in her garden and researching conspiracy theories at the local library.
If you think that’s a lot of characters to get to know over the course of a single hour, you’re right, and that’s not even everyone. The Mist is intent on giving us a town-wide picture right from the start, taking its cues from other dark ensemble shows like Twin Peaks and fellow King adaptation Under the Dome. It can be riveting to watch such a large group of people reacting to one grim event, particularly when you feel like you know most of them. The trouble is that The Mist flits back and forth between characters so often that you barely feel like you’ve met these people. When the show does focus in, it often seems to traffic in archetypes that are both predictable and estranging. We have the squabbling parents, the innocent teen at a party for the first time, the weird kid, the hyper-masculine cop and the nosy old woman, all waiting for this supernatural event to come along and make them all interesting. The show would be much more effective if these characters were interesting in the first place. Sadly, almost none of them are.
That might not be as big of a problem for The Mist going forward. King’s stories and many great horror stories in general often blossom when the pressure is on. When all hell breaks loose and characters start making life-or-death decision, you really get to know them, so maybe The Mist will eventually find complexity. What might continue to be a problem is the show’s attempt to give its audience a slow burn, building up subplots and character beats while the mist swirls. That’s a necessity when drawing this story out for the small screen but none of these narratives have really hit any kind of compelling moments. The show is certainly trying its damnedest to present the dark underbelly of a beautiful town a la Twin Peaks, but the predictable characters don’t make it feel like anything new. Even setting aside the characters the subplots themselves feel more like attempts to be edgy – in addition to animal death, teen rape is introduced – than actual stories, at least so far. One particular moment between Eve and Kevin, as they sit on a dock beside a gorgeous lake, seems to sum up the show’s approach quite well.
“It is pretty,” he says, looking out at the natural beauty.
“Not if you look closely,” she replies, and flicks an insect from her jeans.
It’s moments like that which hammer The Mist’s themes at you like a blunt instrument, pushing you away rather than pulling you in.
Are there good things about it? Absolutely. The cast, despite the material, is very solid, and you can always count on Conroy to inject something charming and compelling into whatever she’s doing. Then, when the mist-fueled horror actually does kick in, the show picks up a little with some decent scares and one very memorable and satisfying moment of gore. You get the sense that, now that the villain’s arrived, this might actually be a solid show. That’s great, but you have to sit through a full hour of often plodding television to get there.
The Mist premieres Thursday at 10 p.m. EST on Spike.