The Mist (2007) — Frank Darabont and Stephen King collaborate once more

“It appears we may have a problem of some magnitude.”

Justin’s rating: All paths lead to the Tower

Justin’s review: Out of all of Stephen King’s many, many, many short stories, his 1985 novella “The Mist” achieved such a strong cult following that placed it far out in front of the rest. I’m not quite sure why — I mean, I did like the story, but it’s really little more than a revamping of the old people-in-a-house-surrounded-by-zombies motif we’ve been seeing since the ’60s. The anticipation for a movie or TV adaptation of this story had been coursing strong through the veins of the internet for years now, and when it finally got made, it was directed by none other than Mr. Shawshank/Green Mile himself, Frank Darabont. Fans were elated.

Yet what should have rightly been a sleeper hit ended up being somewhat of a matchstick fizzling in the rain at the box office. What gives?

Let us never underestimate the flow of sludge that eternally flows between King’s written works and his movie/TV adaptations. Once in a rare while — moreso with his non-horror works — that river is forged successfully and a decent visual experience emerges. Yet most of the time the product wades onto the far shore covered with confusion, laughable characterization, and events that are so far from scary as to render them cheerful laughter for a hospital ward. Darabont’s gotten lucky with two solid hits, but this time around he seems unsure as to what made the story so popular — and how hard that would be to translate to the screen.

The Mist opens the morning after a massive electrical storm in Maine, and many residents — David Drayton (Thomas Jane) among them — flock to the convenience store to stock up on supplies. He brings along his cranky neighbor who used to star on Homicide and his little kid (because, y’know, ALL Stephen King stories have a little kid who usually ends up as the conduit for the primeval forces of seething midnight). Before they know it — but not too soon as to deny the influx of various cardboard stereotypes — they become trapped in a building surrounded by a thick, impenetrable mist.

As panic and flickering lights settle in, it quickly becomes apparent that the store is under siege, but by who or what, nobody can say. Because there’s a mist, you understand. I was going to guess “ghost pirates,” but John Carpenter is way ahead of me there, and besides, this mist seems to be of the tentacle variety, not the “yo ho ho and a bottle of rum” group.

The crowd in the supermarket quickly divides into three camps: those who deny the existence of monsters in the mist (and suffer appropriate ironic demises), those who rationally try to figure out how to survive, and those who follow the fanatical ravings of zealot Mrs. Carmody. Yes, as always there’s a religious nutcase in the crowd, just waiting for a dense weather pattern to present the opportunity for a bit of over-the-top Bible thumping and pronouncements of Judgment Day (8:56 am on April 14, 2056).

The problem here is that the movie’s lynchpin is based on the dynamics of normal people fracturing under radical circumstances — but even under the most extreme circumstances, I can’t envision your average supermarket clerk or PTA mom going from “Hm, should I buy taco seasoning now that it’s 4 for $1?” to “KILL THE INFIDEL! SACRIFICE THE VIRGIN TO APPEASE THE OLD GOD C’THULU!” in the space of a half day. That sort of thing needs time to simmer and cook until it’s a tender mess (that reminds me: I need to turn on my crockpot).

On top of that, David is impossible to root for, as Thomas Jane forgot to take his acting medicine here and elected to cruise through the movie with the same grim look that alienates him from us. Likewise but in a different way, Mrs. Carmody alienates by being a hateful parody of Christianity to the point where her voice is the screeching overture to a symphony of fingernails on chalkboards.

Human dynamics aside, The Mist does get a chance to have its fun as the creatures begin to vigorously assault the supermarket, which is countered by humans wielding torches. No, not your high-tech arc welder torches, mind you; your garden variety Transylvania mob torches. Eventually, a group of survivors make a break for it, only to encounter horrors beyond belief on the outside. Such as a congressional sub-committee.

I liked The Mist, more or less. It’s a little long, tipping over the two-hour mark, considering that its source material was only 155 pages, but at least it doesn’t blow its money scenes in the first half, leaving nothing but a dull wait until the end. There’s a neat twist on the zombie genre, even if Darabont takes the ambiguous ending of King’s novella and makes it questionably biguous. Worth a looksee, ayup.

Didja notice?

  • The artist guy at the beginning is working on a painting of Roland from the Dark Tower series. He’s also got a painting/poster of The Thing in his room.
  • Very cool opening credits
  • Don’t go out there… you know better… oh man.
  • Mmm.. bugs
  • During an action scene in the film, a man runs into a wire rotating-book shelf in the grocery store, and as the shelf topples over, a Stephen King paperback can briefly be seen flying off as the shelf falls.
  • The pharmacy next to the Food House store is called “King’s Pharmacy,” most likely a reference to author Stephen King.

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