While “The Mist” ultimately disappoints because it says everything it is thinking aloud, it has enough decent performances and tension-filled scenes to qualify it as an above-average scary movie. And while there is enough gore to merit its R rating, it is practically a family film compared to the nastiness of the recent “Saw IV.”
The story comes from the Stephen King story of the same title, which was certainly shorter than his typical novels (at a little more than 100 pages), but too long to qualify as a short story. I remember reading it as the opening to the short story collection, “Skeleton Crew” after buying it at a used bookstore 10 years ago at the beach. I remember it being an entertaining read with all the trademarks that make King so popular.
Those qualities, as I define them, are: that he tends to write from the point of view of characters most us can relate to. He then places those characters in an everyday setting, but then the story kicks in when something strange happens, and that something is usually supernatural. There have been dozens of King adaptations over the last 30 years, both in the form of theatrical films and television miniseries. Several of them are very good, such as “Stand By Me,” “The Shining,” “The Shawshank Redemption,” and “The Green Mile.” Others are very bad, and plenty of others are somewhere in between.
“The Mist” has one thing going for it. It is directed by Frank Darabont, who adapted “Shawshank” and “Green Mile.” While it doesn’t measure up to those films, it still has plenty of moments that work in the way the best King movies do. It’s creepy and claustrophobic while still leaving a bit of room for care (at least somewhat) about the characters.
The movie opens, like many King stories, on the Maine coastline. It is summer and the main character, David Drayton (Thomas Jane) is cleaning up his yard after a terrible storm that wrecked his boathouse, the parlor windows and a movie poster he finished painting (that’s his living, of course). He and his young son, Billy (Nathan Gamble) decide to travel to the grocery store for supplies to fix a few things around the house and in case there is another storm. David’s neighbor, Brent Norton (Andre Baugher) tags along. Brent is a doctor and has a vacation house on the lake He doesn’t live there year-round, so he is known as one of the “summer people” among the locals. Although David is angry because he had asked Brent for years to cut down the tree that destroyed his boathouse, it looks as they might make peace while on this (presumably) short trip to town.
The store is packed with others who have the same idea. While standing in line, everyone notices that the mist that had been building over the lake has made it almost impossible to see outside. Suddenly, a bleeding man runs into the store screaming that something in the mist ate his son.
The doors are closed and it isn’t long before the electricity shuts off, and everyone is too afraid to leave. While in the loading room in the back, David discovers that there really is something to the bleeding man’s fears. Brent is convinced that David trying to humiliate it, so he doesn’t buy his story, which sets into motion one of the movie’s main themes: Us Versus Them.
Speaking of that, a religious zealot named Mrs. Carmody (Marcia Gay Harden) is convinced that the apocalypse has arrived and keeps warning everyone in the store that they must repent of their sins. Although usually very good, Harden is just a bit too much here. While her character is clearly meant to be a villain, her take on it is just a bit too one-dimensional to be believed.
But there are some decent performances here. Toby Jones is quite good as one the store’s clerks, Ollie. Jane is passable as the hero and Laurie Holden is fine as a teacher who has recently moved to the town and helps take care of Billy.
I had no real problems with the movie until a scene came in which the characters are discussing the nature of humanity, of which the store has become a microcosm. What do we fear and why? Do we choose alliances out fear? Is humanity basically good and rational or is it basically fearful, vindictive and savage? The scene goes on a bit too long and characters start saying things that they might be thinking, but should never come out of their mouths. It is as though Darabont explained the meaning of the movie in a presentation to the studio and then recycled his speech to use for the film’s dialogue.
Also, a word of warning: when Ollie voices his opinion that sums up the film’s meaning, there will likely many who are offended.
And while I must commend Darabont for having the nerve to the end the movie in such a bleak way (I won’t completely spoil it here), it actually feels every bit as contrived as a happy ending would have. The novella ends on an ambiguous note, but it seems like Darabont just really wanted to attach a “Twilight Zone”-type twist on it. But it simply isn’t logical.
“The Mist” is rated R. No one under 17 admitted without accompanying parent or guardian.