The Mist by Stephen King: A Review

After I saw the movie in the cinema, I was immediately intrigued to read the book version of The Mist. It was, by far, one of the creepiest most tragic horror films that I have watched. I wasn’t able to get a copy until three years later (two weeks ago) at a secondhand bookstore, along with an old issue of Firestarter (which was also turned into a movie starring a young Drew Barrymore). Because my momentum has waned somewhat, it took me a while before I started on and finished the paperback.

The Mist tells the story of a mysteriously thick mist that envelops Bridgeton, Maine after a storm that devastates most of the homes in the area and kills the power throughout town. While on an errand to pick up supplies in the local supermarket, artist David Drayton, his son Billy, and neighbor Brent Norton find themselves stranded inside the store as someone bursts in, warning them against “something” lurking within the mist, something dangerous and unknown.

The story was originally printed as a novella in Skeleton Crew, a compilation of 22 stories by Stephen King. The standalone paperback was relatively brief at 230 pages and was told from the point of view of David Drayton.

As with any Stephen King story, the general atmosphere of the book was dark, while the situation inside the supermarket was similar to that leading to the final facedown in The Stand. The urgency was a bit toned down in this novela considering that the people, at first did not know what kind of creatures were hiding behind the mist. When they finally learn of the horrors that await them if they try to escape, divisiveness and anarchy ensue led by the town doomsdayer Mrs. Carmody.

Marcia Gay Hayden as the fanatical Mrs. Carmody, younger in the film but no less vexing than her literary counterpart.

The descriptions were vivid and as one reads on, one would be able to imagine what the creatures looked like and how feral they are on the attack. Other than the monsters, I thought the best part of the book was its ability to present the characters as regular people reacting realistically to the the circumstance at hand. They were not pretending to be heroes nor trying to save the lot, but rather, they were clear on their goal which was to survive in any way that they could for as long as they could. It was also interesting to note what extremes people would actually go to in order to achieve salvation as they perceive the end of their days. The political and moral underpinings of this story is massive.

I must say however, that despite liking the presentation of the story from a first person standpoint, I preferred the movie version because it was able to illustrate the tension inside the supermarket more. Mrs. Carmody, while presented as annoying and fanatical in the book, was a formidable nightmare when Marcia Gay Hayden took on the role. And while I was looking for answers from the book that the movie left unclear, I was disappointed that the book also left the questions hanging. There was really no resolution to the issue of the Arrowhead Project, what it really was and what it had to do with the creatures.

In the book, I found an interesting paragraph towards the ending which echoed my thoughts about the book exactly:

It is, I suppose, what my father would always frowningly called “an Alfred Hitchcock ending,” by which he meant a conclusion in ambiguity that allowed the reader or viewer to make up his own mind about how things ended. My father had nothing but contempt for such stories, saying they were cheap shots.

While I am not totally against a hanging ending, I was at least expecting to get some form of closure from the tale. The movie ending was tragic but a stroke of genius, in my opinion, because it made a great impact. It was decisive and final, leaving the viewers to shake their heads in regret upon leaving the theater. After I read the last page of the book, I was still waiting for the other shoe to drop. It’s really not an issue of length because The Running Man (also written by King as Richard Bachman), short though it was, was awesome. I think that King was sending a message to his readers with the passage — its like he deliberately left out the good parts to the imagination of his fans and he was giving his permission for us to run with it.