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Stephen King's The Mist (2007) Print E-mail
Wednesday, 21 November 2007
Frank Darabont made a strong impact from having written and directed “The Shawshank Redemption” and “The Green Mile,” both based on works by Stephen King. He stumbled a bit with “The Majestic” six years ago; “The Mist” is his first movie as a director since. All along, he's also been a busy screenwriter and script doctor, he initially wrote horror movies, as early as “Nightmare on Elm Street 3” and the remake of “The Blob.” Now he's back to Stephen King (but not in a prison) AND horror with “The Mist.”

Though there are some problems with the first 3/4s of the film, most of the time it's scary, exciting and occasionally funny. Darabont had the preview audience in his hip pocket-they were reacting and laughing as if on cue. But the last fifteen minutes of the film present a problem. Darabont couldn't very well film King's own wrapup-because the story didn't so much end as merely stop, and that wouldn't work in a movie. Darabont was definitely doing the right thing in trying to find a more movie-satisfactory ending-but what he's come up with isn't likely to satisfy very many. Still, what lies before that is so much fun, even if a bit obvious in its bids for significance, that audiences are likely to get their horror movie kicks from this thriller.

In Maine, movie poster artist David Drayton (Thomas Jane), his wife (Kelly Collins Lintz) and young son Billy (Nathan Gamble) take shelter from a violent electric storm raging over the lake by their house. In the morning, David and Billy set out for the nearby town for repair materials, taking along touchy neighbor Norton (Andre Braugher), who had sued David not long before. Before they leave, they notice a curious mist advancing across the lake.

The three go to the Food House supermarket, along with a lot of other residents and a few soldiers from the nearby Army base. There's a strong earthquake (rare in New England) and the town's sirens unexpectedly go off. Phones and radios don't work. Very soon, that strange mist also surrounds the market-could the Army's experiments have something to do with this?

Local Dan Miller (Jeffrey DeMunn) rushes into the store, his face smeared with blood. Don't go out, he says-there's something in the mist, something that kills. A woman who left her two children alone summons up courage and leaves the store. But when a man tries to reach his now-hidden car, those in the store hear his screams. He's been killed.

So what's out there in the mist? No one seems to know. Local crackpot Mrs. Carmody (Marcia Gay Harden) begins muttering darkly about the end of days and the Lord's judgment. Billy is frightened, and David tries to comfort him. He goes back into the store's loading area-and hears something large out there in the mist, something that leans on the folding doors.
Local Jim Grondin (William Sadler) and his pal sneer at David's suppositions; when they go into the back, accompanied by the store manager and a bag boy, there are no sounds, nothing leaning on the aluminum doors. But the emergency generator is beginning to smoke-its outside exhaust vent is plugged. When the bag boy scorns David's warnings, the door is raised-and the teenager is almost immediately seized by large, taloned tentacles reaching in from the mist. This scene is one of the highlight of the movie; the special effects (by a large team) are excellent, the editing tight and exciting, even the score is great.

But back in the store, telling others of the bag boy's death, few believe them; Norton in particular decides (unconvincingly) that it's all a prank at his expense. (There's a strong suggestion he regards himself the target of racism.) He won't even go back and look at the chunk of tentacle David managed to hack off (which soon melts into ooze anyway). Assistant manager Ollie (Toby Jones) looks like a meek, mild man, and probably is, most of the time, but he sides with David and continues to exhibit increasing strength and conviction.

Realizing that the large front windows make them vulnerable, people start piling bags in front of them-and then the bugs come out of the mist and land on the windows. This is the most eerie sequence in the film; Mark Isham's music Is understated, and the scene is suffused with a sense of wonder rather than terror-but that soon comes. Because the creatures that EAT the bugs come flying in out of that damned mist.

One gets inside, allowing for another exciting, beautifully-edited (by Hunter M. Via from “The Shield”) action sequence as David tries to fend off the vaguely pterodactyl-looking creature (now in flames) with a burning mop. The special effects here, as throughout, are outstanding. The monsters were designed by Greg Nicotero and his team from KNB (as well as Darabont, and Bernie Wrightson), and look disconcertingly likely. Much of the time, the creatures are animated via CGI, under the direction of Everett Burrell, and executed by the company Digital Dream. The effects are so good that one reviewer assumed they had to done by Ray Harryhausen-like stop motion.

As the terror increases outside (and next door in a pharmacy), Mrs. Carmody keeps terrorizing those stranded in the market. She's clearly led a powerless life, and always felt the lack of that power, always craving it. Now it's arriving, and she feels it growing moment by moment. And she's going insane. Harden is simply terrific in the role; yes, a religious fanatic in a suspense movie is something of a stereotype, but Harden zooms right over that-she's completely convincing, so much so I hope friends caution her against attending public screenings of “The Mist.” The audience is likely to rip her apart.

Frances Sternhagen is (as usual for her) a tower of down-home strength as aging school teacher Irene. Toby Jones, who was Truman Capote in “Infamous,” is unexpectedly strong as Ollie, a classic American type (though Jones is British, the son of character actor Freddie Jones). Young Nathan Gamble has to spend most of the movie on the verge of panic (and who can blame Billy?), but is consistent and convincing throughout. William Sadler believably falls apart-first he's skeptical, then all too convinced, then drunk, and then he's ripe for Mrs. Carmody's Bible-thumping warnings. She eventually claims God demands human sacrifices. Sadler and DeMunn and both Darabont veterans-DeMunn has been in all four of the movies directed by Darabont.

Laurie Holden is Amanda Dumfries, another of those firmly in David's corner, and something of a slight love interest for him. They don't end up screwing in the manager's office, as they did in the story-but checker Sally (Alexa Davalos) and local soldier Wayne Jessup (Sam Witwer) do have a romantic scene, which is more intrusive than anything else. Most of the background players are just that-people in the background, though Brian Libby makes a strong impression as a taciturn and courageous biker; he's been in even more Darabont efforts than DeMunn, including Darabont's career-launching amateur short, “The Woman in the Room”-based on a story by Stephen King.

The movie does occasionally generate bad laughs, partly from ill-timed lines, partly from Mrs. Carmody's fulminations-but the audience continues to go along with the film anyway. The rhythms are right, the scares well-timed, the effects professional and believable. There's even plenty of vivid gore, especially on the ill-advised excursion to the pharmacy, overrun by spiders. (One human victim collapses, bursting gorily open into a carpet of baby spiders.)

At 127 minutes, “The Mist” is somewhat too long for this kind of movie; the central section of the film is somewhat repetitious, and there are probably too many lines pointing out that those trapped in the supermarket have more to fear from each other than from anything out there in the mist. This is evidently the thesis of the movie, and may explain the disturbing, unsatisfactory ending.

But although we're stuck in that store for most of the movie's running time, the movie never feels any more claustrophobic than Darabont wants it to. It's as limited a setting as any theatrical play, but never feels stagy or uncomfortably confined. Most of “The Mist” is at least as good as “Shawshank” or “Green Mile,” though a very different (and more typical) Stephen King story. It's well-produced on a relatively low budget, was shot efficiently (in Shreveport, Louisiana) and has several good performances. If Frank Darabont wanted to prove he can do exciting, scary horror, he's done it. Despite its weaknesses, “The Mist” is an entertaining, ghastly chiller.

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