Book vs Movie: The Mist

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The Mist is the first story (a 150-page novella, actually) in the Stephen King short fiction collection Skeleton Crew. But before I get into what The Mist is about and how it differs from its film adaption, can I just take a moment to profess my undying love for Stephen King? Yes, I know I’ve done that already in this post, but just bear with me for a minute. It’ll be over quickly.

Like many Stephen King fans, I started reading his books when I was quite young. Too young? Who knows. And there was a time that I was embarrassed to say he was my favourite writer. He just wasn’t taken seriously. Actually, depending on who you talk to, he still isn’t.

But we are in the midst of a Stephen King renaissance (one that I hope never ends), so I feel I can admit my fan-girl status proudly. He is my favourite writer because no matter what he writes about, I know I’ll enjoy reading it. Even if I don’t love the book, I always love the experience of reading the book. And I think that’s because the way he writes, the way he creates characters and settings, feels just perfect to me.

Which brings me back to the reason we’re here because The Mist starts off with what might be my favourite first line ever:
“This is what happened.”

Set in Maine, The Mist tells the story of a strange fog that rolls into town. While David and his son, Billy, are at the grocery store, a man runs in with a bloody nose, screaming and scaring the hell out of everyone. This is when we catch on: as Bustle puts it, “something is definitely in the mist, y’all.”

Without giving away too much I can tell you that this quaint little town is taken over by a crazy mist and some tentacled creatures that seem to reside within it. We never really find out what the mist is, where it came from, or why any of this is happening, which of course makes it much scarier. I agree with this quote from the AV Club: “We don’t always get answers in life–even if they’re out there, we don’t necessarily have the perspective or access to them, and sometimes we just have to work with what we have. “The Mist” is another one of those King classics where things just happen, and it isn’t clear why. And that’s part of what makes it scary.”

I’ve always heard good things about Frank Darabont’s 2007 adaptation of The Mist. So as soon as I finished the novella, I watched the movie. I noticed right away how different the pacing was. While the book is much more of a slow build, Darabont’s film gets right into the action, and everything feels hurried for the rest of it.

But overall the plots are very similar. People don’t know what’s going on, some people go out to investigate, some horrifying things happen, alliances are formed, and an ending takes shape when some folks decide they’ve had enough of sitting around and waiting.

The movie makes a bigger character of Mrs. Carmody. In the novella, she’s much less irritating. Even though she’s played by a great actor (Marcia Gay Harden), I found myself wishing that Darabont had kept her screen time to a minimum.

In general, I found the movie to be gory and the book to be scary. Reading the description of the tentacles from the loading dock scene was much creepier than actually seeing it in the film. But there are plenty of scenes added to the film that enhance the scare-factor by quite a bit (particularly if you’re scared of bugs).

And then, of course, there’s the ending, which Darabont changed drastically from King’s novella. Collider called the final few minutes of the film “gutsy”, earning The Mist “an enduring reputation as one of the bleakest movies ever made.”

Bleak, indeed. As soon as the final credits came on I searched around online to find out what Stephen King thought of the dramatically different ending. Here’s what he had to say to Yahoo Movies:

“When Frank was interested in The Mist, one of the things that he insisted on was that it would have some kind of an ending, which the story doesn’t have — it just sort of peters off into nothing, where these people are stuck in the mist, and they’re out of gas, and the monsters are around, and you don’t know what’s going to happen next. When Frank said that he wanted to do the ending that he was going to do, I was totally down with that. I thought that was terrific. And it was so anti-Hollywood — anti-everything, really! It was nihilistic. I liked that. So I said you go ahead and do it. The critics and fans both kind of excoriated him for that. And now, when you read retrospective pieces about The Mist, people are, “Wow, that’s one of the great ones.” They like it. They just had to get used to it.”

While I didn’t love Darabont’s ending, I can totally understand why he chose to do it that way over sticking with the novella’s ending. Most people aren’t happy with an ambiguous ending. They want answers. They want resolution. And when you’re done reading The Mist, you have neither.

Still, I preferred reading The Mist over watching it. Probably because of Stephen King’s ability to write characters. While reading the book, I was right there with David for the whole murky journey, which made the story compelling and chilling rather than just gross and scary, as in the movie. But you should grab a bowl of candy and watch it anyway since it’s October, and if you don’t watch something scary this month you’re missing out on all the fun.

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