Stephen King’s novella masterpiece of a town shrouded in horror and the breakdown of society is reimagined as a sprawling television mini-series
Television adaptation of Stephen King’s The Mist comes to Netflix
Stephen King probably doesn’t even break a sweat as he crafts interdimensional monsters with razor fangs, flesh-rending tentacles and odious people-munching habits – but at the end of the day, his cautionary tales teach us that human nature is the thing we should fear the most.
In print, one of his favourite devices is to trap people together, cut off any avenue of escape – then watch them go batty and gradually turn on one another as social niceties evaporate and a brutal new pecking order emerges. Whether it’s a family in a haunted hotel in The Shining or an entire town beset by alien technology in Under the Dome, it’s only a matter of time until sanity goes the way of the dodo.
One of the very best of these pressure cookers is The Mist, which sees a gaggle of townsfolk trapped in a supermarket when an eerie fog full of bloodthirsty creatures engulfs their small Maine town. It first appeared as a horror novella in King’s 1980 collection of short fiction, Skeleton Crew.
In 2007, Hollywood delivered a superlative, gut-wrenching film, adapted and directed by Frank Darabont, who also helmed another box-office hit from King’s canon, The Green Mile (1999), and went on to bring The Walking Dead to television in 2010.
Like the seasons, everything King does comes around again, and now The Mist has been reimagined for television by Spike TV in the United States, where it premiered in June to respectable cable ratings. Its global Netflix debut is Friday.
The man behind the curtain this time is Danish writer/filmmaker Christian Torpe, who freely admits he felt the weight of adapting and expanding the work of one of the most famous authors in the world into 10 hour-long episodes. By necessity, his is a looser retelling, with new storylines and characters, set in a shopping mall, a church and more.
“The novel is 180 pages and it takes place over a very short period of time in a supermarket,” says Torpe. “In order to turn it into a show, we had to change a lot of things. And at the same time we wanted to be incredibly respectful to the source material.”
So the showrunner, feeling the flutter of a few butterflies, went back to the man from Bangor, Maine, to get a proper blessing to proceed.
“I sat down and wrote [King] a very, very long email about what I proposed to change and why I wanted to do it, and how I thought it spoke to something very contemporary,” Torpe recently told the CinemaBlend website. “I pressed Send, I barely slept that night, and I woke up the next morning and got an email from him.
“Reading that is probably the scariest thing I’ve ever done. But he was just incredibly kind and generous and said as long as I didn’t do anything ordinary, then he was completely on board with allowing me to fire away and do what I wanted. That was such a generous thing and so kind of him.”
In Torpe’s retelling, The Mist centres around a small-town family that is torn apart by a brutal crime. As they deal with the fallout, a creepy mist rolls in, suddenly cutting them off from the rest of the world, and in some cases, each other.
Family, friends and adversaries become strange bedfellows, battling the mysterious mist and its threats, fighting to maintain morality and sanity as the rules of society break down. Anchoring the series is Morgan Spector, an actor previously best known for his portrayal of Frank Capone on the HBO series Boardwalk Empire. Here he portrays former journalist and children’s book author Kevin Copeland, a man estranged from his wife Eve (Alyssa Sutherland of Vikings) and daughter Alex (newcomer Gus Birney) – and who desperately resolves to find them when the mist rolls in.
“As Christian’s obviously noticed, there isn’t enough [in the book] necessarily to stretch it out for a series,” says Spector. “So he’s taken all the weird little idiosyncratic characters and the old, tense relationships between people who have known each other their whole lives in a small town, cramming them all together in a high-pressure environment, and seeing what fissures emerge and how people crack.
“That sense of just staring for a long time at someone while they break is what Christian has taken from the story.”
In character as his wife Eve, Sutherland remarks: “There’s this theory that we’re always just nine meals away from anarchy. Take away food. Take away water. Nine missing meals later … that’s when people start doing bad things.”
Other stars include: Danica Curcic as a young drug addict on the run; Okezie Morro as an Arrowhead Project soldier with amnesia; Luke Cosgrove as a high-school footballer accused of a heinous crime; Darren Pettie as his father, the town sheriff; Russell Posner as a teen misfit; Dan Butler as a modern-minded priest; and Isiah Whitlock, Jr. as manager of the local mall, who struggles to keep order in the new society.
One of the best things about The Mist, which received mixed reviews in the US, is the indomitable Frances Conroy, best known for her turn as family matriarch Ruth Fisher on the television series Six Feet Under (2001-2005), for which she won a Golden Globe. She has also received critical acclaim for playing the spine-chilling older version of the housemaid Moira O’Hara on the first season of American Horror Story.
In The Mist she has been cast in the role of Nathalie Raven, an ecological martyr. While she is seemingly more connected to nature than most people, her instincts about her fellow humans are dead on – much like King’s.
Even in his dotage, as he closes in on his 70th birthday on September 21, King remains productive and a force majeure in popular culture as he continues to captivate and engage our imaginations on a global scale, with his stories of common folk in uncommon situations.
It’s been a year well-stocked with adaptations of his work, with his interdimensional saga The Dark Tower now in cinemas, with his Mr Mercedes now a David E Kelley mystery series on the Audience Network in the US, and with a remake of his evil-clown-demon masterpiece It creeping into cinemas this September.
When it came to making The Mist, Torpe says he got a kick out of finding new ways to do horrible things to people.
“Fun is a weird word, but it’s a creative challenge and it’s been very interesting for me,” he says. “What you wouldn’t necessarily know from seeing the pilot is that I come from comedy. The stuff I do back in Denmark has mostly been in the comedy and dramedy genre. This has been a very new road for me – but I’ve had a lot of fun doing it.”
The Mist is available to stream on Netflix from August 25