“The Mist,” Frank Darabont's third teaming with best-selling author Stephen King, is not as good as his first collaboration, “The Shawshank Redemption” (1994), still his best film by far, but it's better than his last picture, the Jim Carrey starrer, “The Majestic” (2001), which was a huge artistic and commercial flop.
Made by the Weinstein Company (and released by MGM domestically), “The Mist” is a schizoid horror flick that suffers from stock characters, mediocre special effects, and unfulfilled existential goals (see below). Overall, this gore fest, based on King's 1980 novella, doesn't deliver the goods as well as Weinsteins' previous adaptation of a King novella, “1408,” with John Cusack, which grossed over $70 million in the U.S. alone.
If it's easy to forget Darabont's origins as writer-director, it's due to the fact that two of his previous films, the worthy “Shawshank Redemption” and the unworthy “The Green Mile” were nominated for the Best Picture Oscar, though neither won. To put it bluntly, as a scripter Darabont hails back to 1980s schlocky fare, such as “The Fly II,” the inferior sequel to David Cronenberg's masterful “The Fly,” and the inferior remake “The Blob,” a far cry from Steve McQueen's 1950s sci-fi.
I mention that bio info because Darabont has never been able to shake off completely his background, despite an aura of pretentiousness that marks his features “Shawshank” and “The Green Mile.” In “The Mist,” as scribe and helmer, Darabont has tried-but not succeeded-to make a metaphysical horror tale with existential overtones, attempting to say something “significant” about humans' conduct in a state of crisis, here a “natural” catastrophe.
In its ad campaign, the studio is using
C.P. Snow's famous observation, Civilization is hideously fragile, there's not much between us and the horrors underneath, but there is not evidence for this kind of serious approach on the screen. For a good work that does have philosophical-existential overtones, you should see the Austrian director Michael Haneke's apocalyptic saga, “The Hour of the Wolf.”
Even so, what elevated “Shawshank” was the superb acting of Tim Robbins and particularly Morgan Freeman. And the same can be said about “Green Mile,” which was disappointing and indulgent as a movie, but nonetheless featured Tom Hanks at the prime of his career, surrounded by a stellar supporting cast. Unfortunately, in “The Mist,” Darabont works with a no-name cast, basically second-tier thespians, such as the likable but not formidable actor Thomas Jane, who plays the hero, and Marcia Gay Garden, a gifted actress who, allotted with a hysterical role, consciously goes overboard with screaming and shrieking.
“The Mist” is at its best when its sticks to the groundand to its generic origins as a nasty, grim horror flick. The source material, while better than the movie, is also not one of novelist King's most accomplished or interesting works. The special effects, which may be a function of the modest budget, are certainly not top-notch. They give the whole enterprise the feel of a B-movie in both the positive and negative senses of this label.
The premise of the novella and film is simple but workable. When a mysterious storm hurts the peaceful Maine lakeside house of David Drayton (Thomas Jane) and his son Billy (9-year-old Nathan Gamble), they go to the grocery store for supplies. An even stranger, more malicious mist envelops the town, leading to wide speculations about its source, potential scale, and possible effects. While most of the residents smartly stay within the supermarket, the few who rush outside never come back.
A series of creepy and grotesque monstersmutant crawling insects, slimy multi-tentacled creatures, huge squirming bugs–begin to smash their way into the store, causing havoc. In a manner similar to Hitchcock's “The Birds,” where a group of residents is locked within a diner, the shoppers begin argue, offer tentative explanations as to the origins of the real monsters, and mostly express their fear, anger, desperation, and paranoia. Prime among them is Mrs. Carmody (Marcia Gay Harden), a religious fanatic who stirs the shoppers with irritating shrieks and statements like, “Now do you believe me or not” after each and every attack. (A similar character also appears in “The Birds”).
With the exception of the closure, from that point on, “The Mist” follows the narrative conventions of the horror genre almost by the book. For one thing, the stubborn residents that scorn David and refuse to listen to his advice and stay inside, are the first to die. (You can start counting). “I'd rather die out there trying than in here waiting!” says one shopper, before leaving, never to come back.
There's also the obligatory sex scene, between the appealing youngsters Sally (Alexa Davalos) and her beau (Sam Witwer), which results in gruesome violence, reaffirming the strong generic link between sex and violence, particularly against liberal and sexually loose women.
The whole text is marred by narrow characterizations-sort of one dominant personality trait per figure. The dialogue is borderline banal, beginning with the supermarket manager's early warning, “It seems we have a problem of some magnitude,” a variation of “Houston we have a problem.”
The calculated, conclusive ending deviates from King's novella's more morally and thematically ambiguous denouement, which, again like the closure of “The Birds,” leaves some questions unanswered.
As noted, the film is marked by an uncertain tone that vacillates between the truly scary and cheesy special effects, the dramatically poignant and the utterly trivial, the hysterical and the rational, the routine narrative and the psychologically and spiritually pretentious overtones.
Handsome and charming, Thomas Jane plays well the kind, smart, and resourceful ordinary hero who, like Rod Taylor in “The Birds,” is both a man of action and a good family man; the novelty here may be in the fact that David is an illustrator, not the most “masculine” profession in Hollywood action fare.
Visually, Darabont goes for a different style here, defined by a more immediate, hand-held camerawork by Rohn Schmidt, better known for his work on FX's “The Shield” (to which Darabont contributed a number of episodes). Production designer Greg Melton deserves praise for creating a detailed enough supermarket set to hold attention, since at least half of the yarn is set within its confines.
David Drayton – Thomas Jane
Mrs. Carmody – Marcia Gay Harden
Amanda Dumfries – Laurie Holden
Brent Norton – Andre Braugher
Ollie – Toby Jones
Jim Grondin – William Sadler
Dan Miller – Jeffrey DeMunn
Irene – Frances Sternhagen
Sally – Alexa Davalos
Billy – Nathan Gamble
An MGM release of a Dimension Films presentation of a Darkwoods production.
Produced by Frank Darabont, Liz Glotzer. Executive producers: Bob Weinstein, Harvey Weinstein, Richard Saperstein.
Co-producers, Randi Richmond, Anna Garduno, Denise Huth.
Directed, written by Frank Darabont, based on the novella by Stephen King.
Camera: Rohn Schmidt.
Editor: Hunter M. Via.
Music: Mark Isham.
Production designer: Gregory Melton.
Art director: Alex Hajdu.
Set decorator: Raymond Pumilia.
Costume designer: Giovanna Ottobre-Melton.
Sound: Paul Ledford.
Supervising sound editor/sound designer: George Simpson.
Re-recording mixers: Rich Ash, Elliot Tyson.
Visual effects supervisor: Everett Burrell.
Visual effects: Cafe FX.
Special effects coordinator: Darrell Pritchett.
Creature effects makeup: Gregory Nicotero.
Stunt coordinator: Steven Ritzi.
MPAA Rating: R.
Running time: 126 Minutes.