Stephen King is no stranger to science fiction. While some of his most famous stories exist purely in the realm of horror, plenty of King’s greatest hits veer into Lovecraftian territory, featuring interdimensional monsters and other scares with sci-fi roots.
One story stands apart as arguably his scariest to mix horror and sci-fi. Depending on where you stand when it comes to this film, it may come as a surprise to hear that I’m talking about The Mist. But here’s why this 2007 adaptation (rather than the 2017 series) is worth checking out — and what you need to know before you watch it.
Based on a 1980 novella of the same name, The Mist tells the story of a town in Maine (where else?) that becomes enveloped in an unnatural mist full of horrifying monsters. The story focuses on a group of people who take refuge in a local grocery and quickly reveals that the greatest monster of all may be human nature.
The film is the work of Frank Darabont, who made his name writing horror flicks like A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors (1987), The Blob (1988), and The Fly II (1989). Darabont had expressed interest in directing The Mist since the early ’90s, but cut his teeth on The Shawshank Redemption (1994) and The Green Mile (1999) before finally getting his dream Stephen King project.
Following the plot of the novella closely, The Mist pits local artist and father David Drayton (played by Thomas Jane) against religious crackpot Mrs. Carmody (Marcia Gay Harden). At first, Drayton leads the people inside the store as they try to protect themselves from the monsters outside, but as the situation worsens, Carmody gains more followers until eventually, Drayton is in the minority. That’s when she starts suggesting that the mist demands a human sacrifice.
While plenty of Stephen King stories are downright terrifying, what makes The Mist particularly scary is its portrayal of humanity and the thin line between society and chaos. It only takes two days for the people inside the grocery store to turn on each other. The movie’s scariest moments are all about that rapid shift and the deadly results.
Of course, the monsters are scary too. While the CGI doesn’t totally hold up, Darabont and his team took some creative leaps with the source material to create some truly horrifying monsters. An expedition led by David to the next-door pharmacy proves to be particularly frightening after it turns out to be infested with giant spiders.
Eventually, David and his remaining allies decide to leave the store for good, and while I won’t ruin The Mist’s devastating finale, I will note that it’s a deviation from King’s original story. Darabont worked directly with King on those tweaks, which replaced the author’s inconclusive ending with something more direct.
“The ending is such a jolt — wham! It’s frightening,” King told USA Today in 2017, adding that’s what horror movie audiences want.
Darabont also wrote an additional scene for the beginning of the script in which a thunderstorm disrupts the research at the nearby Arrowhead Project’s laboratory, allowing the mist and its monsters to escape from their dimension into ours. The scene was never filmed, though the movie still offers enough information to infer that’s what happened.
Ultimately, however, it doesn’t really matter where the monsters came from or whether they ever go away. The Mist proves that while Lovecraftian creatures might be good for a reliable scare, they’re nothing compared to a dangerous mob and one evil human who’s more than happy to rile them up.
The Mist is streaming now on Netflix.