When it comes to adapting the works of Stephen King for the big screen, nobody has enjoyed greater success than Frank Darabont. In 1994 he parlayed King’s The Shawshank Redemption into a score of Oscar nominations, and repeated the feat with 1999’s The Green Mile. King has even gone so far as to anoint Darabont as the filmmaker he trusts most to faithfully render his work into movies. So it should come as no surprise that his visioning of King’s 1980 novella The Mist is about as faithful as a movie can be to the source material, but that’s not always such a good thing.
For those not familiar with King’s story, it recounts the events resulting from the aftermath of a severe thunderstorm that hits the small Maine town of Castle Rock, which finds itself enveloped in a dense mist that brings with it a horde of mysterious and deadly creatures. The townsfolk stock up at a local supermarket for what at first seems like little more than a prolonged power outage and find themselves barricaded within as the creature-concealing fog rolls in. From there, the story alternates between the shoppers trying to survive against the various carnivorous entities that have them under siege and the interpersonal drama that takes hold as a religious zealot in their midst does her utmost to convert the survivors into her own version of Jonestown, and it’s on this component of the story that the movie stumbles — though not fatally.
If there was one facet of King’s story that screamed out for re-work, it was the subplot involving the bible-thumping Mrs Carmody (Harden). This rang hollow in the novella and doesn’t fare any better here. While it’s understandable that in a story populated with archetypes there’s a need for foils to provide narrative momentum, choosing a religious nutcase as the vehicle is about as convincing as having some white haired nutty professor pop up in a lab coat shouting “it’s alive!” Fortunately both Darabont’s screenplay and King’s story have the good sense to advance the plot forward at a quick enough pace so as not to allow things to become bogged down in a stereotypically bogus anti-religious tirade.
Eschewing leading actors and instead opting for character players, The Mist doesn’t disappoint when it comes to acting and effects, both of which are of high calibre. Devotees of King’s original story may find themselves taken aback by Darabont’s decision to pen a decisive ending to the tale, rather than the open-ended conclusion chosen by King, however in an e-mail to the director after reviewing Darabont’s ending, King gave it his unequivocal endorsement saying if he had thought it up at the time, he would have used it. It’s rare to find a creature feature that actually delivers when it comes to fear factor, but The Mist is a wonderful throwback to those movies that scared the jeepers out of us as kids, and had us sleeping with the lights on with a chair propped up against the closet door. Darabont can safely add yet another successful King adaptation to his list, even though it’s safe to say there won’t be any Oscar nominations heading his way for this. One can only wonder what their next collaboration will yield.