A film review by Craig J. Koban

THE MIST jj
Ĺ 

2007, R, 127mins.

David Drayton: Thomas Jane / Mrs. Carmody: Marcia Gay Harden / Amanda: Laurie Holden / Brent: Andre Braugher / Ollie: Toby Jones / Jim Grondin: William Sadler

Directed by Frank Darabont /  Based on the story by Stephen King.

To be fair to director Frank Darabont, I absolutely loved everything about THE MIST...that did not involve slimy and hideous monsters chasing and eating people.

When the film focuses more on the character dynamics, it is thoroughly absorbing, tense, and scary.  However, when the creatures start showing up in endless supply and attack their human prey, I found THE MIST to be a rag-tag conglomeration of tired and regurgitated horror movie conventions and clichťs.  Thatís too bad, because there are really compelling issues and themes at the heart of this film, but its problem is that they are interrupted and punctuated by repetitive gore and mayhem.

The issues that plague THE MIST did not typify Darabontís last few films.  I guess this is why I expected more out of the director than a cheap, manipulative monster movie.  His three previous films, THE SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION, THE GREEN MILE (both based on Stephen King works) and the terribly, terribly underrated THE MAJESTIC, worked because of Darabontís investment in the personas and relationships.  THE MIST is based on a King novella, so I suppose you are to expect a level of macabre intrigue, but SHAWSHANK and THE GREEN MILE were also appropriated from King and were involving on a dramatic level.  Lesser directors would have picked the more obvious horror novels from King to film, but Darabontís choice of adapting some of his more atypical works is kind of novel.  I think that this is what separated Darabontís King adaptations from the smorgasbord of others.

THE MIST, alas, feels like a lot of those "others."  On some levels this is a horror film that at least rises above the level of the nauseating "torture porn" genre that seems so disturbingly prevalent today (Darabont has the foresight to see that good characters and themes can help propel a good horror yarn).  Also, the film is always intriguing for the buried socio-political themes it embraces.  As a product of a post-911 world where we have been breed to live in fear from a largely unseen enemy,  THE MIST is a rare genre film that understands and nurtures this mentality.  The central element of the film is fear and fear of the unknown, which drives its divergent characters to behave in ways never before reached.  Like good classic horror films, THE MIST is a decent, subversive parable about our current times.

Yet, for everything it does so well, THE MIST is (sigh) a monster film were creepy and crawly creatures jump out of corners from the dark, from places unseen, etc...and wreak havoc.  What Darabont fails to realize is the wasted potential of this material.  He simply shows too much.  A better choice in a monster film would have been to not show the monsters as much as possible: the implied presence of them would have been even more scarier.  Instead, we are offered up a lot of inconsistent CGI effects, mindless action, and characters that break so many of the cardinal blunders that have befallen other characters from bad horror films.

For example, if you knew there were giant, insect like creatures outside that could tear you in half instantly, would you dare go out?  Also, if you did venture outside, and come in contact with one, why not run instead of standing there screaming?  Furthermore, why would some characters refuse to believe in the existence of said creatures when there is incontrovertible proof that they do exist?  The teens that loved to spot loopholes in horror films from the SCREAM series would have had a field day with THE MIST.

The film starts with relative normalcy and then takes a quick sharp turn into the fantastical.  In the beginning we meet film poster artist David Drayton (Thomas Jane, always a rugged, stern, and reliable leading man) who is painting at his home studio when a violent storm arrives.  After all is said and done, the storm has caused considerable damage to his personal property (two trees have fattened both his boat house and his studio, ruining his art).

To fix things, David, his son Billy (played well by the young Nathan Gamble), and his semi-estranged neighbour, Brent (Andre Braugher) head into town and proceed to a local supermarket.  As they all gather supplies a strange, eerie, and seemingly unstoppable mist starts to envelope everything around it and is heading for the grocery store.  One man, bloodied and bruised, rushes into the store from the mist, pleads with everyone to lock the doors and stay put, and pitifully screams, "There is something in the mist!"

At first, the other shoppers are cautious and shut the doors, but they donít take much of what the injured old coot has to say.  Then the power goes out, which starts to get people a bit scared and feeling claustrophobia.  The mist outside has now completely surrounded the store and has blanketed the shoppers with near zero viability outside.  Soon, some of the store workers go to the loading dock area to inspect the malfunctioning generator.  Actually, David goes to check first and discovers that something may be on the outside trying to push its way into the store through the dock doors (that "something" is so powerful that it violently bends the doors inward, suggesting something really, really big on the outside).

Of course, Horror Movie Cliche #1 dictates that some idiot will feel the need to venture outside, and at Davidís very puzzlement.  When the young man does, a hideous creature made up of large, octopus-like tentacles reaches inside and starts to attack them all.  Clearly, there are monsters outside, and David even manages to get proof as he chops off one of the creatures tentacles.  Of course, Horror Movie Cliche #2 dictates that many in the store will not be convinced, despite the evidence.  Soon, more evidence shows up when we see more creatures trying to get inside the front part of the store (these beasties take on the form of gigantic insects).  Some manage to get in and the humans fight them off.  This, of course, begs the question: If there were a monster that was made of large talons at the back of the store, why would it not go to the front where there are nothing but windows where it could easily bash its way through?

Never mind.

The threat of the creatures, not to mention the looming mist, really starts to mess with the heads of the people inside the supermarket, which is a relative whoís who of stock characters (we get the gorgeous girl next door, the meager and nerdy cashier, the young military man that has a big crush on one of the other female cashiers, the wise old retired school teacher, and so on).  One character that bares mention is Mrs. Carmody (played in a Oscar-seeking performance by the great Marcia Gay Harden) who is an uber-religious, Bible thumping, spiritual fanatic.  She thinks that the mist and creatures are a sign from God of the impending apocalypse and that God has made her His personal emissary on earth.  She thinks that He has given her the job of leading those that want to be saved into heaven, while condemning those that wonít to death by ritual sacrifice.  She eventually creates divisions in the store and some become true believers in her while a small band (led by David) think sheís all wrong and self-destructive.  David and his clan have a real point: compared to the monsters, Mrs. Carmody is the scariest thing they all face.

As stated, THE MIST works best when Darabont hones in on the small, personal battles that exist between the troubled people inside the store.  When developing this tangent, THE MIST is gripping and scary stuff, especially as we see how an unhinged level of anxiety and fear can pollute and poison otherwise good people.  This is where Darabont has always succeeded in his other films: while dealing with mood and atmosphere.  Far less interesting and - truth be told - less scary are the monsters themselves, which are created with muddled and mediocre effects.  The creatures are decent looking enough, but they kind of distract from the strong parts of the personal story of the warring people inside the store.  Again, a better choice would have been to not show monsters at all, which would have drummed up the filmís tension and created some haunting ambiguity (if the creatures were not seen, then perhaps they don't exist, then would the people have anything to be legitimately scared of...or not?).

Unfortunately, Darabont tries to explain too much, such as a reason for the monsterís existence, which seems about as lame as it sounds when one characters tries to explain it (perhaps the best choice would have been to not explain at all, as in Kingís original 1980 novella).  Then there is the filmís much ballyhooed ending, which has been described by some critics as shocking, depraved, and uncompromisingly unsettling.  Let me be a level head by stating - without given too much away - that the film ends on a real downer, but it also feels a bit too superficially constructed and manipulative for obvious shock effect.  Considering the depraved actions of one character at the end - and seeing what occurs right afterwards - it left me scratching my head and saying to myself, "Why would he do that if the outcome seemed like it could be avoided?"

Darabont's third adaptation of a Stephen King work certainly gets it right...half the time.  As a stirring study of the escalating distress and panic that people develop when placed in jeopardy, THE MIST is wholly engaging.  As a scary and violent monster movie, the film rarely is as compelling and, quite frankly, is just not that scary.  Watching the motley crew of tortured humanity battling with one another for supremacy inside that grocery store...now that was frightening.  Itís just too bad that Darabont - in his usual competent and shrewd hands - couldnít understand that all of the inter-dimensional creatures in the world and the carnage they leave in their wake is simply not as horrific as the sins of man.

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