Frank Darabont has the hots for Stephen King. He is a consummate Stephen King director. He’s done the most by far when it comes to adaptations, and he seems to not only understand, but actively love the material he’s using. Today’s film, The Mist, is his third King film he’s adapted, and I think he’s starting to get better with it each time he does it. As the world knows, I wasn’t a huge fan of The Shawshank Redemption (GASP!) and The Green Mile was a little sappy for my tastes. So this time, apparently, Darabont got my memo and stopped making the easy King movies. The Mist is a difficult undertaking, and it’s primarily because the limits are only the imagination of the director. Fortunately for us, Darabont has a reasonably good head on his shoulders, because The Mist is both imaginative and provocative, with enough of that King allure and deep mystery to keep you guessing and afraid until the very end.
It all happens in Maine (Again; GASP!). A father named David Drayton and his son have to go to the local grocery store to pick up some things after a big storm. It’s a bit dangerous because of a thick fog moving in, but they make it there just fine. In the grocery store there are a few of the local residents, as well as a few soldiers. David doesn’t think anything of it really, and continues on with his day, until some police show up outside in the thick fog. There is an obvious violent confrontation between them and something they cannot see, and as quickly as it begins, the scuffle ends eerily and silently. Everyone in the store is confused momentarily, until a frightened townsperson comes barreling through the parking lot begging to be let in. They lock the door behind him, and he tells them that something’s out there, and it tried to attack him. People begin to form their own opinions about what happened, and as the mist rolls closer and harder onto the store, they begin to wonder just what is happening, if anyone is going to help them, or if there is even anyone alive to help them. Paranoia grip the denizens of Podunk, Maine, and heads clash on how they will best survive the crisis, and it seems for a while that the greatest danger David and his son might face will be from those around them. But a terrifying mission to switch on the generator will reveal an awful truth; that there is something IN the mist, something not of this earth…
What an amazing atmosphere… The Mist has that timeless element that all horror classics have right from the get-go. Unlike most horror films, though, it keeps its cerebral grip on you throughout most of the film due to the varying nature of the threat. We don’t know all that lies in the mist; there are oddities that defy all logic there, and we’re never sure to what degree these creatures can even threaten the people inside. There are unexplained massive tentacles, larger-than-life insects, and other unspeakable things that lie within, but at first it seems like they might not venture too close to the window-panes that make up the front of the store. But the nature of the mist is elusive, and perhaps there is something larger and more sinister waiting to pounce on them in their huddled vulnerability.
And not everyone is living peacefully in the store, either. Frank Darabont really capitalized on the awesome dynamic within the store that King envisioned. There are your average folks, like our hero David Drayton, but there are also backwoods yokels, naysaying skeptics, hotheaded bullies, and a particularly dangerous religious fanatic that divides the townsfolk with her use of Old Testament fear-mongering and firebranding that is scary on a number of levels. You start to see lines being drawn between people when they should be thinking about the outside threat, and that is another layer of tension that is wonderfully effective in this instance.
A stellar cast inhabits this tiny little Maine shopping center. Thomas Jane should be credited as the necessary good in a sea of mistrust and mayhem, David Drayton. He is such a strong lead that it makes me instantly forget his yucky turn in The Punisher. I liken him to the Henry Fonda character in 12 Angry Men; he’s strong, he’s courageous, and he rocks some washboard abs. Good job, Jane, especially in the finale. Laurie Holden is Amanda, the sweet and caring girl who would be Jane’s love interest (only Drayton is A MARRIED MAN!). She’s okay, but they really don’t ask her to do much. She’s not that big of a deal as far as presence goes, but I wouldn’t say she was awful. The real star here is Marcia Gay Harden, who plays religious fanatic Ms. Carmody. She is such an evil and self-righteous chick that I wanted to punch her through the screen. Not only is religious sanctimony my NUMBER ONE pet peeve (more like my personal nightmare), but I also hate this character’s insistent rudeness. This woman is a downright monster, and I thought her to be just a tiny bit worse than some of the monsters in the mist. harden does an excellent job in a definite performance to watch. The fervor in her eyes is as good as real, and you get the sense that it even gets to her as an actor at some points.
It’s not perfect; there are quite a few “how is everybody doing?” scenes where we have to do a lot of banal check-ins with everyone’s current condition and their unique pasts. Which would be fine, if this wasn’t set in Maine, where interesting stuff is hard to come by without a mysterious mist rolling in. And some of the characters, like Drayton’s generic kid, were a little half-baked and boring. But I liked The Mist a lot. It’s been done before, but never with so much imagination behind it. Many scenes feel electric with a frenetic energy that is synonymous with the new, with the unexplored, with the unknown. And there is a lot we don’t know about The Mist. If you like movies that are willing to challenge you, or movies that aren’t afraid to hit home with you, this will be one for you. But if not, I wouldn’t recommend it; at least, for your sake, turn it off 15 minutes before the end, because the last scene is one that you won’t ever forget. I give The Mist 8 1/2 Mainian (?) grocery stores out of 10!
Tomorrow I’ll check in with Hellraiser! Until then!