Though famed author Stephen King has no problem topping literary best-seller lists, TV and movies based on his works have never achieved quite the same level of success.
For every IT, Carrie, and The Shining (which King has vocally disowned, for what it’s worth), there are many more duds and flubs, from the 2017’s abysmal The Dark Tower to the forgotten Sleepwalkers. Hey, did you know there was a major streaming adaptation of The Stand with a star-studded cast last year? No? Me neither.
But in 2017, one King adaptation was the now-defunct cable channel Spike’s last shot at network success. This didn’t ultimately pan out, but out of the effort came 10 resoundingly solid episodes of creepy TV, in which stupid, deserving people suffer the consequences of their idiocy. It’s far from perfect, or even just plain good. But just as fast food goes down cheap and easy, so too does this underseen gem.
The Mist is the sci-fi television series you need to watch before it leaves Netflix on October 23. Here’s why.
Deviating from King’s original 1980 novella, the show borrows its initial premise: A scenic Maine town (“Bridgeville” in the show, “Bridgton” in the novella) is engulfed by a mysterious fog, which obscures a hostile presence feeding on the townspeople. But because true horror is never about monsters but instead about how humans behave in response to them, the series places emphasis on how people can come undone by hysteria and delusions.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the existence of a 2007 film adaptation of The Mist by director Frank Darabont. His film followed King’s book more closely, albeit with changes that King himself signed off on. Spiritually a monster movie with Lovecraft-inspired undertones, that version of The Mist is a far cry from the Spike TV series, which is more of a Gothic drama about a town in disarray.
Aside from releasing predatory bugs that feed on humans (one of the biggest changes to King’s story, which had something more resembling pterodactyls), the mist is capable of manifesting one’s anxieties and fears. To risk spoilers: In episode five, you see a high school bully slain by spectral classmates, whose lives he made a living hell. Heavy-handed stuff, sure, but it gets the point across.
Additionally, The Mist has recurring religious undertones, ranging from an agnostic take on the Hindu belief of karma to a Judeo-Christian idea of Judgement Day. It’s unavoidable when you’ve got characters holing up in a church, but these ideas work to conjure a compelling atmosphere of endless existential self-examination. “Have I lived a life worth living?” is the unspoken question everyone in The Mist asks themselves.
The show follows an ensemble cast, with one “main” family anchoring most of the story’s emotional labor: father/husband Kevin Copeland (Morgan Spector), wife/mother Eve (Alyssa Sutherland), and teenage daughter Alex (Gus Birney). In the pilot, a rift occurs when Kevin allows Alex to sneak off to a party, only for her to be sexually assaulted — allegedly by her crush Jay (Luke Cosgrove), a star football player. (The true identity of the rapist is eventually revealed, and while it is authentic to real-life statistics of assault, its narrative unfolding is ultimately unfulfilling beyond plot-twist dramatics.)
Just as the Copeland family has conveniently split up at the series’ opening, both physically and emotionally, they find themselves separated by the mist, alongside numerous townsfolk — including Alex’s alleged rapist — who descend into madness, gossip, and groupthink.
Genre-savvy fans may recognize a premise like The Mist and consider it derivative. Such criticisms aren’t undeserved, but The Mist feels intentional with its homages. Horror director George A. Romero cemented the foundation of contemporary survival tales with his cult 1978 film Dawn of the Dead. That much of The Mist takes place inside a suburban shopping mall feels like a tribute to Romero, though the close approximation to Romero’s story and themes is enough to beg the question of what The Mist does well beyond channeling its influences.
(On the flip side, King’s story took place in a grocery store. For the purposes of TV, there are perhaps more visually interesting things to do in a shopping mall than with a neighborhood Pathmark.)
At only 10 episodes, there’s just enough meat on The Mist’s bones to chew on over a weekend binge. Produced at a time when cable networks had woken up to original programming but the streaming wars hadn’t yet begun in earnest, The Mist is just enticing enough to let Netflix’s autoplay lead you into the next episode.
It’s far from the best show you’ll watch this year, or even this month, and there will be times you wished the guiding forces behind the show had tried just a little harder. There’s also the deeply unnerving presence of Harvey Weinstein’s name in the producer credits — a sorry sign for a show that awkwardly and clumsily handles an assault storyline.
It’s not hard to find better shows than The Mist. But as chilly autumn finally sets in, you’d be hard-pressed to find one better suited for this exact moment. And at only 10 episodes, that leaves enough time to read some Stephen King as well.
The Mist is streaming now on Netflix until October 23.