Adapting the work of Stephen King has produced a mixed bag over the years, with results ranging from iconic (The Shining), to definitely not as good as you remember (IT), to nonsensical and bloated (Under the Dome). The pilot for The Mist, loosely based on the author’s 1980 novella of the same name, is a bit hit-or-miss itself but ultimately succeeds by exploring King’s favorite idea, that compared to the freaks and creeps that go bump in the night human beings are the worst monsters of them all. By the time the titular weather pattern finally descends on Bridgeville, Maine about two-thirds of the way into the episode—until then it crawls forward at the same speed Jason Voorhees lumbers after Crystal Lake campers—its arrival seems inevitable, like the community willed it into existence through its combined unpleasantness. Yes, the screams and jaw-ripping bloodiness it brings are horrific, but in the end The Mist’s first hour proves David Lynch right: nothing is scarier than a small town with a big dark side.
Long before the fog rolls in, Bridgeville’s shadow hangs over the Copeland family, who appear to be the only decent people in the entire town. Parents Kevin (Morgan Spector) and Eve (Alyssa Sutherland) disagree on how to properly raise their high-school age daughter, Alex (Gus Birney) and that’s before Eve is ousted from her teaching gig for teaching a sexual education class. Kevin, wary of sheltering his child, advocates for a more lenient approach while Eve has spent a lifetime as the firm hand to her husband’s open palm. It’s Kevin’s “good cop” technique, however, that kickstarts the show’s true horror story. His permission, given behind his wife’s back, leads Alex to a high-school house party and deadcenter into a devastatingly familiar: a spiked drink, a blacked out memory, and—as Alex tearfully describes the next morning— “blood on the sheets.”
On one hand, the central sexual assault storyline is the perfect vessel for showrunner Christian Torpe to shine a light through some very topical darkness, the type of Friday Night Lights meets your worst nightmare scenario you can find flipping through the 24-hour news cycle any day of the week. Where King’s original story played with fear of the unknown, The Mist is more interested in the horror hiding in plain sight. Call it fear of the known but ignored. Alex’s assailant, Jay Heisel (Luke Cosgrove), is both the quarterback in a town where high-school football means everything and son of the police sheriff in a town where the law means nothing. It’s his word against hers, and his just means more. When the police come to collect Jay from school, an officer congratulates his teammates on a game well-played. “You can raise your child any way you want, and clearly you already have,” a mother later snipes at Eve, proving that the only thing that spreads faster than a lethal mist in Bridgeville is a popular opinion, and the results are equally as nasty.
But throughout, Torpe refuses to let a metaphor stay subtle, or an underlying thesis remain, well, underlying. The Danish filmmaker has points to make and dammit, you’re going to notice them. Nowhere is this more grating than in Alex’s best friend, Adrian Garf (Russell Posner), a jack-of-all-trades when it comes to being an outcast. “All football is white male aggression,” he says at one point. Later, he lets Alex know “I don’t fall for gender, I fall for personality.” To be clear, it’s not the content of the character’s talking points that seems off—he’s usually right, to be honest, and it’s admirable of a horror series to take on so many themes at once—but the delivery. Posner’s tentative performance mixed with Torpe’s blunt force writing keeps Adrian feeling less like a human being and more like a random generator of woke thoughts.
That’s not to say The Mist is without mystery. Danica Curcic plays Mia Lambert, a drug addict who kills a man with a pitchfork and breaks into a shed searching for a bag of money before we hear her speak three full sentences at a time. Still, we know more info about her—drug addiction and one murder-via-farming-tool count as info—than we do about Okezie Morro’s Bryan Hunt. At least, that’s the name on the debit card inside his pocket when he wakes up in the woods—sans memories—wearing army fatigues, next to a German Shepherd named Rufus. “Are you mine?” Bryan asks the dog, who shortly afterward becomes the mist’s first victim.
If nothing else, you know a horror story means business when it kills the dog.
That might be the most relatably terrifying part of the show so far. When the violence comes, it arrives from the blue without warning. Rufus is strung from a tree branch in the first five minutes. The Copeland’s elderly neighbor, Benedict Raven (Derek McGrath), gets shot in the head by a rambling man, who then turns the gun on himself. The violence that occurs inside the mist happens like it would in real life. Sometimes there’s no saving the adorable dog. Sometimes the trigger gets pulled before the deus arrives ex machina.
And, sometimes, the horror you know is worse than the horror you don’t. Where King’s novella focused solely on Bridgeville residents trapped within a supermarket, this series separates its main players; Kevin is holed up in the police station with Adrien, Mia and Bryan, while Eve and Alex are confined to the town mall with, of all people, Jay Heisel. When Alex locks eyes with the person responsible for the worst moment of her young life, The Mist’s main question becomes clear: Is it riskier to run into a horror you can’t explain, or stay hidden with a fear you can explain all too well?
- Welcome to weekly reviews of The Mist! I look forward to finding this show’s bright spots, while trying to ignore its shoddy CGI frogs.
- Does time move slower in Bridgeville? It looked like Adrien and his family were eating dinner, a full football game was played, and then the Copeland family arrived home at what looked like four in the afternoon.
- American Horror Story alumni Frances Conroy is a welcome sight here playing Natalie Raven, whose anecdote about the “Black Spring” is taken nearly word-for-word from King’s story.
- A few characters reacted to the mist too extremely, too soon, no? Heavy fog is eerie, yes, but Mia could have seen at least one bug-devoured corpse before telling Kevin “if you leave us behind, we die and you know it.” Does he know that?
- Also, Mia to a headstone bearing the name Anna Lambert: “I’m not sorry.”