Wednesday, 15 May 2013

The Mist review

The Mist written by Stephen King
This is the first book by Stephen King that I’ve actually read. I’ve dismissed him for a long time because he’s known primarily for his works in the horror genre. I have a tendency to dismiss horror as a whole even though I’ve experience some good horror entertainment (in various mediums) and I have some favourite horror stories. I'm glad I took another chance with King and I’ve got to admit that the comic adaptations and prequel comics of King’s famous Dark Tower series played a big part in that decision.  

What I liked the most about King’s writing in The Mist was the way he had his main character, David, observe his surroundings. King has been a writer his entire life and one of the things that clearly influence his writing are the observations he makes. In the story, David is an artist and he too makes very interesting and sometimes enlightened observations. The way he puzzles things about his situation is fascinating and has, perhaps, depending how you interpret the ending, saved his life and that of his son. 

The Mist is horror story I which a secretive science facility, the Arrowhead Project, opens a portal to another dimension. A thick mist inhabited by strange, terrifying and predatory creatures. It’s clearly a horror story but the focus is squarely placed on the characters. The story is quite mysteries as to what is actually happening. The answers King provides regarding the mist, its origin and the creatures that hide within it are limited to the origins of its appearance in the city where most of the story takes place: the Arrowhead Project.

Throughout the story King provides the reader with glimpses of the monster hidden in the mist. You have fragments of what happened to the people outside the grocery store. The only things you know about some of the characters are what David has been able to read from their behaviour. Most I the conversations deal with the situation that is happening. He characters aren't asking each other about their lives or their loved ones. They focus on what is happening or they fade away in the deepest recesses of their mind.

Some of the characters kept busy with meaningless or meaningful tasks from taking turns on sentry duty or preparing food for the others. Many other characters were happy to do the minimum requirement of thinking and barely acknowledge the presence of others. David, he observed. He observed and based on what he saw, he acted for the benefit of A) his son, Billy, B) his own survival, and C) the survival of others. His surviving instinct are directly linked to how he views and interprets his surroundings.

One of the weakest elements of the story has to be the ending. It’s ambiguous and we only get to see a part of it and the rest is left wide open for interpretation. Although I didn’t enjoy it, it fit with the tone of the story and with everything else that was previously established. Overall, King provided few answers and he doesn’t give any more answers with the ending. The most upsetting thing about the end is how King makes fun of it. The story was written by David and he mentions himself that he’s run out of paper and the “end” is not actually the end. He continues to travel and heads towards what is hopefully the end of the mist. He specifically mentions how a lack of ending is frustrating and he even describes it as “Hitchcockian”. I get the feeling King wasn’t sure how to end it and this is the best he could come up with. Still, it fits with what came before but it lacks any real emotional punch. It’s no real surprise that he’s been so vocal in his appreciation of the movie’s ending which differs quite a bit from what King wrote.

Before talking about the movie adaptation of The Mist, I have two side notes I want to address. The first is that there was a surprising amount of references, mostly to household products and pop culture. I’m not sure if the quantity is a lot compare to other non-genre fiction (I read mostly fantasy and science fiction). It did seem to be a lot to me personally. Maybe the main setting of the story, a grocery store, is to blame for this.

The second side note has to do with survival fiction. When I write survival fiction I mean survival stories that occur after post-apocalyptic events or other cataclysmic changes. It’s interesting how there are locations that seems to provide much better grounds for survival than others. King addressed this a bit in The Mist when he has some of his characters check out a pharmacy next door occupying space in the same plaza as the grocery store. The pharmacy could have been an equally effective stronghold against the creatures in the mist except for one minor detail which resulted in the death of all the people who were sheltered there.  

The Mist adapted by Frank Darabont
Overall the movie doesn’t work as well as the novella. The pacing feels rushed. The acting is wooden. I attribute the blame mostly towards the pacing and not so much the acting but it’s important to know that there are no amazing performances here. The simple reasons why the movie doesn’t live up to the book has to do with the two most important elements in the novella’s success are absent from the movies. That is, the sense of near absolute uncertainty and David’s surprisingly engrossing observations. The movie just doesn’t seem to have enough room to breathe to allow for those two important elements to be present. The movie is just above two hours in length and it begins in the second chapters of the novella. It skips the whole storm that sets off the events in King’s story.

The movie excels in two other aspects though. The first is the creatures in the mist. The creatures are very well done. This is a double edged sword since what made the novella so good was the characters and how they interacted with each other. The monsters are set dressing. They provide a potentially fatal and very threatening setting in which the story of the survivors can take place. The characters in the movie feel one-dimensional and drab. The monsters on the other hand are superbly designed and very, very gross.

The other problem with the monsters in the movie is that we see them but we know nothing about them. David’s theories and observations of the creatures is an essential part of the story. The movie limits itself to showing the monsters and scarring us and the survivors with their grotesque appearance instead of engaging us in the mystery surrounding them. The book took its time to think about what was happening. The movie does allow for any thoughts to be had. It’s too quick and it focuses on extended action sequences involving the monsters in the mist. On the other hand, the book focused on the study of characters, creatures and events as seen and understood by David.

The second aspect in which the movie excels is the ending. I won’t spoil it here but Darabont clearly thought about it. Much like myself, he must not have been satisfied with King’s original ending and so he rewrote it. Although King has expressed how much he loved the ending, I think Darabont rushed it. Another minute or two could have been used to give us a real feeling of what their situation really was. The characters agreed to easily to such a big decision. Props must be given to the actor playing David, Thomas Jane, because that was the most moving scene in the entire movie.

It saddens me that a filmmaker like Darabont chose to focus on the monsters instead of the characters in The Mist. He’s demonstrated his skills with dramatics stories in both The Shawshank Redemption and The Green Mile (both also adaptations of stories by King). It’s particularly frustrating when King’s story seemed to focus on characters more than the monsters. In the novella, the monsters are little more than set dressing. They give the characters something to be deathly frightened of and the mist gives them a reason to think of the worst possible outcome their situation could have. What really matters though is David’s fight for survival and the protection of his son and what he does to try and achieve those goals. What he’s willing to risk is far more frightening than any tentacles or giant bugs, no matter how many pop out of the mist. 

No comments:

Post a Comment