Thursday, June 22, 2017

REVIEW: 'The Mist' - Bridgeville is Rocked by a Scandal Followed by a Mysterious Mist in 'Pilot'

Spike's The Mist - Episode 1.01 "Pilot"

When the residents of Bridgeville, Maine find themselves engulfed by a foreboding mist containing a myriad of inexplicable and bizarre threats, their humanity is put to the test. What will people do to survive when blinded by fear?

Spike is one of the many networks making a serious push into original scripted programming at the moment. It's an exciting time for television even though it's getting more and more overwhelming with each passing day. The bubble has yet to burst with Peak TV. Some outlets are getting out of the game after a couple failed attempts. But others are still making big risks in the hopes of big rewards. Most of Spike's efforts in this field are being saved until the network officially rebrands to the Paramount Network next year. That's a name that will hopefully allow it to grow and be taken more seriously as a prestige player. Right now, it does feel like a network in the midst of an identity crisis. It will be that way until the transition happens and probably for a couple of years after that too. The Mist is one of the last shows to debut on Spike. It's airing this summer because production was already active once the rebrand announcement was made this spring. It had already been planned for the summer. So, it should be fascinating to see what becomes of this show. Will it be a success and usher in a new era for this network? Or will it flop and just be shuffled away under the guise of Spike being no more?

Of course, all of that is speculation about the network at large. It's questions for the future based on how commercial the series becomes. Right now, we can only talk about the creative side of things after one episode. This is a very intriguing pilot. It carries so much world-building to it. It has to establish the lives these characters were living before this supernatural mist rolls into town. One character is literally defined by the mist for the entirely of the premiere. That's Bryan Hunt who wakes up in the mountains and is aware of the danger the mist poses from the very first moments of the series. He plays as a mystery character. The intrigue of who this guy is and what happened to him before the start of the show will be more important than the humanity of the character. That's already irksome in this opening hour. He's running around trying to warn people about the mist. But he does come across as a crazy person. It's a ridiculous thing to say. The show treats that accordingly. Yes, it makes the townspeople seem dim because the audience is fully aware of the premise of the show. The title character is going to have a major impact in some way. But their reactions do seem real and genuine as well. It's how people would react in this situation. It would be crazy to think that a mist descending on their town will lead to a ton of chaos and destruction.

However, the hour spends a lot of time in the lives of the characters before the mist actually arrives. Bryan sees the danger in the mountains. And yet, it still takes roughly two days until the mist actually hits Bridgeville and starts doing some damage. In the meantime, the action focuses on the Copeland family. It almost plays as the story setting up a completely different show. One where a small town is unraveled by a teenage girl accusing the high school football star of sexual assault. It feels a little too conventional. And that's not the reaction one should be having to a story about rape. It's a very serious subject matter that should be taken seriously by everyone involved. But it doesn't really embrace this show's strong qualities. It's aspiring to be a creepy and unsettling supernatural show with tinges of adult themes and stories. It does a respectable job setting all of that up. The blend of stories just doesn't always work for the opening two thirds of this premiere. It's trying to be both a show about a serious sexual assault accusation and one where mysterious killings are happening because of a creepy mist. There is a sense of foreboding throughout this premiere. It's effective by the end once the mist arrives. But in the meantime, it's not as unsettling or successful as one might hope.

And yet, the acting really is quite interesting. The central Copeland family seems to be the entry point for this story. They are a family thrown into turmoil because of what happens to daughter, Alex. Kevin and Eve butt heads because they had different opinions about whether Alex should even go to this party. Kevin thought it would be safe because Alex's best friend, Adrian, would also be there. But Eve knew it would be trouble because Jay, the football star, has an overwhelming sense of confidence encouraged by a very traditional and masculine town. The show is also exploring themes of masculinity. The story brings attention to the fact that both Kevin and Adrian aren't traditional male archetypes. They stand out in a town that is all about football. They challenge these social normalities. They are often ridiculed for it as well. It makes them thinkers instead of doers which should be very interesting to see what happens to them as they become a part of this survival story. Kevin and Adrian are separated from Alex and Eve when the mist falls onto the town. They were a family that was going to spend time apart to deal with this crisis. But now, they are forced apart by supernatural things beyond their control or understanding. Again, the show isn't reinventing the wheel with its plot setup. But the execution is reasonably well-handed with some ideas that could become more interesting once inside the central premise.

The pilot really starts getting more engaging once the mist actually falls onto the town. The shots of it just seeping into the local environment weren't all that creepy or terrifying. But once the characters are actually in the midst of it, it's spooky and unsettling in just the right amount of ways. Sure, the actions that happen in the mist kinda defy explanation at this point. There is something in it that is killing people and animals. The first casualty of the hour is a dog. That will probably get more people emotionally upset than the various human deaths. The humans that die in this premiere were always ear-marked for it. They were disposable in a way that horror stories frequently need. In these types of stories, some characters need to be killed right away in order to establish the stakes of the world. It allows for a couple of really creepy shots as well - like the police officer going crazy once the bugs start swarming around him or the mom who wanted Eve fired being flailed against the mall door with half of her face missing. Those effects provided some genuine scares. It makes it clear immediately that it's dangerous to go out into the mist. So people are trapped in wherever and with whomever they currently are. They'll have to deal with their own personal problems while also finding a way to understand what's going on in the mist and how to survive it. For most of its running time, it didn't seem like The Mist was getting anywhere. But that closing third makes it really enticing to check out the next episode.

Some more thoughts:
  • "Pilot" was written by Christian Torpe and directed by Adam Bernstein.
  • It is noticeable that the special efforts budget is for a cable show and for a network that is testing how much it should be spending on original scripted programming. So, the mist effects could be better. The shots of it on the horizon are a little wonky. But again, things work better when it's enveloped the entire town.
  • Frances Conroy is on this show! She appears to be the actor who brings legitimacy to the project. She's just a supporting character in this. But her story has a very pivotal scare to it as well. Her character's husband is shot right in front of her. Then, his killer turns the gun on himself. That's very unsettling. And it introduces the show to a third environment of characters in a church (who'll need to be introduced in the second episode).
  • It's clear that Bryan wakes up and remembers nothing about his life. His motor skills are fine. He knows how to go about life. But he knows nothing personal about himself. He gets his name off of a credit card. However, that makes it seem very likely that he isn't Bryan Hunt at all. Instead, he's someone else completely and something else happened to the real Bryan.
  • There is another woman who ends up at the police station with Kevin and Adrian who has her own separate story as well. She's getting tied up and killing people. She's searching for a bag in her old friend's shed. But it's much more important that she can seriously kick some ass. She knows how to use a gun. She'll be the reason that Kevin and Adrian survive this ordeal.
  • The local sheriff also happens to be the father of the boy accused of raping Alex. As such, it makes things pretty awkward when the Copeland family goes to the police station to report that crime and their house later be vandalized. He ends the premiere outside in a car with something new going on in the mist though.
  • It's a very melodramatic twist to have Jay trapped in the mall with Alex and Eve. It was completely expected and not all that surprising. It will force Alex to be in the same space with her attacker throughout this whole experience. That's going to be so completely terrifying as well.