Monday, 28 August 2017

How TV’s “The Mist” Missed – No Monsters? Really?!!

The Mist has always been one of my favorite Stephen King stories. For me it tapped into a fear of civilized society being overtaken by a sudden disaster, and how an every day trip to the supermarket could turn into a frightening fight for survival. But what made it stand out was the way it presented this fear in a totally unique, visceral, and visual way by engulfing the town in a physical manifestation of the unknown – a maddening, mysterious mist, filled with unseen monsters bent on tearing apart the town’s inhabitants. What could possibly be more frightening?

In the post-new-millennium era where our fascination with ‘end times’ fiction shows no signs of slowing, The Mist, published in the early 80’s, stands out as a frightful premonition of pop culture’s present obsession with the end of the world. So you would think The Mist’s TV adaptation would not only be timely, but considering the quality of the source material, a total slam-dunk in today’s apocalypse-obsessed age. The Frank Darabont movie adaptation has become a horror classic, so The Mist more than proved itself capable of being translated from novel to film. What could go wrong?

[Yep - spoiler alert!]

Well, as I watched the first episode of The Mist TV series, my excitement turned to complete disappointment soon after the mist rolled into town. As the mist claimed its first victim (a clueless cop taking a selfie in the mist no less! I really can’t stand the idiot victim trope! g.s.) I suddenly realized the mist had no monsters in it. Not one friggin’ monster! The TV Mist had totally missed the point of the mist! The heart of the mist’s terror – a mysterious fog harboring a host of other-worldly creatures, unseen until it was far too late – had been lost.

The writers instead turned the mist into some sort of reactive supernatural force that probes your deepest fears and then tears you apart with its physical manifestation. While interesting, the execution never proved remotely terrifying, just occasionally gross. Why they chose to tool around with this fundamental concept is beyond me. The monsters were the coolest part of the entire story, and discarding them for some sort of vengeful fog was the biggest mistake of the new series.

The next misstep the TV Mist took was not having a suspenseful, tense, or even coherent narrative. In the novel, I was fascinated to watch the characters devolve from a group of civilized townsfolk into a desperate, murderous mob as the horror of their situation sunk in. The TV Mist tried to follow suit, setting up tons of potential tension amongst the town’s inhabitants: Alex’s alleged rape by Jay, Jonah’s memory loss and his connection to Arrowhead, and Mia’s drug addiction and criminal past. Frustratingly, none of these scenarios played out in a coherent or interesting way, and all just ended up feeling pointless. Jay is exonerated but then randomly killed; Jonah is captured by an Arrowhead soldier only to be inexplicably released (because of Jonah’s higher rank? What?); Mia’s betrayal of the group to grab some dope and cash goes nowhere and falls flat.

Perhaps the most disappointing scene was when Eve confessed to the angry mob that Conner was Alex’s dad. None of the actors had the chops to pull off the emotional weight of that scene, and the crowds’ reaction to the news seemed random and non-sensical. Eve wasn’t set up properly as the pariah she needed to be for the town to turn on her and Alex. The whole situation inside the mall seemed forced as the writers pushed the plot forward with cardboard characters and weak motives, instead of really digging into the characters and letting their development allow the story to unfold.

And perhaps most frustrating to watch was Adrian’s transformation from victim to villain. Did it really have to be the one LBGT character who turns out to be the evil psycho, while the pretty boy quarterback gets exonerated as the hero? It made me sigh internally that the series was brave enough to introduce a gay character but backward enough to then turn around and make him the bad guy.

The one shining light in the mist (sorry) was Frances Conroy as Natalie Raven. Her subtle transformation from docile garden-loving hippie to calculating instrument of the mist was fantastic to watch. But once again, the writers set up something interesting and then let it fall totally flat. Natalie’s arrival at the mall should have been her momentous ascension to messiah of the mist, but instead the writers just randomly killed her off. (What?!) Why did the mist suddenly turn on its chosen disciple after sparing her when she faced off against Father Romanov? It was the final random kick in the teeth that made me totally not care to watch season two (if there is one.)

Considering the source material was quite short, the challenges of transcribing The Mist into a 10-hour series are obvious. But in trying to take the story in a different direction, the writers totally lost what made the original novella so cool – the fear of unseen, otherworldly predators; the fear of neighbors turning on each other in the face of a local disaster; the fear of the unknown. When I saw The Mist pop up on my Netflix feed, I was super excited and thrilled to watch it. Despite excellent production values, and the creepiest mist effects you’d ever see, after slogging through 10 hours of disappointing writing and acting, I think this new Mist totally missed. Don’t pass Go. Don’t collect $200. And don’t watch this pile of garbage.