This is a follow-up of sorts to my piece on Mikael Hafstrøm's adaptation of Stephen King's 1408. If you're interested, you should check that out. There, I half-marveled at and half-lamented the fact that the film managed to transform 1408 from a spectacularly scary, quasi-Lovecraftian horror tale into a personal, abstract meditation on grief and loss. In effect, the movie transplanted the story from the conceptual, hard-horror half of King's ouvre (think Cell and From a Buick 8) to the character-driven half (Lisey's Story, Bag of Bones). It was still a good film, but it needed someone who understood the existential terror that King is so good at evoking: a glimpse of something so alien, so divorced from the world we know, that it is simply beyond our comprehension. That's scary. Give me a movie like that.
At the time I wrote that post, such a film already existed. I suspected that this was the case, but I hadn't read the source material, and so couldn't validly make the comparison. Now I can: Frank Darabont's The Mist understands the sort of paralyzing, staring-into-the-abyss horror that King does so well. Even more impressive: not only does it brilliantly translate that aspect of the novella to the screen, it – like 1408 – fleshes out dimensions that the author barely implied. I knew I loved the film when I saw it, but only now do I understand how accomplished it really is.
As for horror: the movie perfectly recreates the novella's collision between the ordinary and the otherworldly. The scene early in the film, when Jeffrey DeMunn barrels into the grocery store, bloodied and hysterical, yelling about "something in the mist," is one of the scariest, most iconic moments in modern horror. The creatures we eventually see aren't generic, weightless CGI concoctions – they are, convincingly, from Somewhere Else. And consider this passage late in the novella, which occurs after David Drayton and his like-minded companions make their way God-knows-where in his SUV: "Something came; again, that is all I can say for sure. It may have been the fact that the mist only allowed us to glimpse things briefly, but I think it just as likely that there are certain things that your brain simply disallows. There are things of such darkness and horror – just, I suppose, as there are things of such great beauty – that they will not fit through the puny human doors of perception." Those who've seen the film will remember the unspeakable monstrosity Dave is describing here, and I can only say that the movie brilliantly captures his sentiment. It conveys a mixture of wonder and terror that took my breath away.
As for themes: the film's exploration of faith, culminating in the conclusion that it was faith in humanity that was crucial and lacking, is deeper than King either managed or intended. In the novella, the character of Mrs. Carmody – played by Marcia Gay Harden on screen – was largely a plot device. King certainly intended some measure of commentary on the way people respond to a sanity-shaking crisis, but he doesn't spend much time on her, and she mostly serves as a way to get Drayton and his pals out of the Federal Market. In the movie, on the other hand, she's a centerpiece; a villainous siren. She starts a cult. She inspires discussions about human nature. The film makes her the story's thematic linchpin.
That brings us to the ending, which I wrote about at greater length some time ago. It's significantly different from King's hopeful, ambiguous coda. It's improbable enough that it has to be considered a 1408-like step toward abstraction, sacrificing immediacy and plausibility to make a point. And it's unforgivingly harsh –which many people, in turn, couldn't forgive. I still like it; I think it gels with the film's thematic ambition without outright violating King's intentions. After all, he too speculated that humanity might be making a stand somewhere.
The Mist flopped in theaters, and I hoped for some level of cult adulation on DVD. The more time passes, the more I resign to the fact that this isn't in the cards. The movie's probably not enough "fun" for cult status. But it's now my second-favorite King adaptation, behind only Carrie. 1408 added layers without grokking what makes King's horror so scary. The Mist finds a way to do both.