Shrouded in Mist-ery
While watching The Mist, the latest big screen version of a Stephen King creation. I couldn't help thinking how scary it would probably be to read this story alone on a dark night. When a movie designed to hold your attention makes you wish you were reading instead, it's about time to call the film's overall effectiveness into question.
This sparse and sporadically spooky yarn takes place on the morning after a bad storm in a small East Coast town. Artist David Drayton (Thomas Jane) and his son (Nathan Gamble) decide to head into town to get some groceries and supplies to fix up their busted house, but they soon realize an even greater terror is on the horizon. A strange, all-encompassing mist proceeds to swoop in and cover the entire town, forcing David and many others to take shelter inside the local supermarket while they listen to blood-curdling screams emerging from deep within the malevolent fog.
Soon an array of ghastly creatures begins attacking the store. These horrible beings, from bug-like beasties to an unnamed multi-tentacled thing, trap the people in the store where David becomes the de facto leader of those who want to combat the mist's monsters and find a way of escape. Opposing him is Mrs. Carmody (Marcia Gay Harden), a fire-and-brimstone Bible thumper convinced the otherworldly onslaught is the result of God's wrath.
Hollywood mega-producers Bob and Harvey Weinstein found success this past summer with 1408, another King adaptation which also took a similar small-scale approach to generating terror. But alas, lightning did not strike twice. Although The Mist gets the atmosphere of dread down pat, it comes up short in terms of interesting characters. Still, I see what writer/director Frank Darabont (no stranger to King, having previously done cinematic interpretations of The Green Mile and The Shawshank Redemption himself) was aiming at with The Mist. The story's structure is patterned after Night of the Living Dead and scores of other movies about people needing a place where they can hide away from monstrous forces. And, like George Romero's horror milestone, Darabont's aims also include commenting on what happens when society gets hit hard by an unspeakable event. This he deals out in spades, showing some of the individuals in the store remaining level-headed throughout and some turning into religious fantatics.
Darabont's intentions are all well and good, but there's a difference between conveying social commentary and doing it well. Unlike the original Dawn of the Dead, which provided near-perfect character arcs while maintaining a consistently unnerving threat, The Mist tends to bore you with its repetition. Once the mist settles in, Darabont goes on to hammer all the points he's already made just a little harder; no characters really evolve; they mostly do what they've already been doing -- be it screaming, fighting the monsters, or ending up as some ghastly creature's midnight snack.
Performances here suffer a little as a result, even though they're not bad, by any means (Jane makes a perfectly capable hero, and Harden is all too creepy as the grand poobah of all Jesus freaks). But they wear thin, thanks to a script that gives them little to do. Even the monsters are as underwhelming as can be, mostly the product of bad CG effects that make you wish Darabont just stuck with tentacles ominously jutting out from within the mist. The whole ordeal is stretched out to a will-breaking two hours plus, and it's all capped off by an ending I admire for not taking the easy way out but also despise for coming across as a cruel joke for both the characters and the viewers.
The Mist isn't a bad film. It boasts a solid look and a varied cast, something you don't often see in a creature feature these days. But the movie is definitely more depressing than scary -- and many multiplexes may be left thick with the mugginess of its long-winded screenplay.
MY RATING: ** (out of ****)
(Released by Dimension Films and rated "R" for violence, terror and gore, and language. )