“The Mist” is the first Frank Darabont feature I can’t endorse. That’s saying something when you consider I’m one of a select few critics who is willing to publicly admit they liked “The Majestic.”
Director/screenwriter Frank Darabont is perfectly capable of making modern classics like “The Shawshank Redemption” and “The Green Mile,” so ”The Mist” isn’t clumsy filmmaking. It is however, bogged down in Stephen King’s tendency towards religious zealotry as a villain. King’s storytelling issues, coupled with Darabont’s inability to hold his horses long enough to build some much-needed monster suspense, plus some tragically inept CGI lands “The Mist” solidly in mediocre territory.
For Christmas this year Hollywood producers should send out copies of almost any Hitchcock film and Spielberg’s “Jaws” to their stable of directors. It seems even the A-listers have forgotten the power and importance of suspense. Even Spielberg would have blown it if his mechanical shark had worked correctly while he made “Jaws.” Thankfully, it didn’t. Thus, the movie scared the crap out of every generation of swimmers since.
“The Mist” could have been a lot more fun if the big reveal came late in the second act, capitalizing on the only important question anyone has going into a movie about mist: what the hell is it? Darabont waits all of ten minutes after the menace rolls in to give us the first glimpse of the enemy within, as a flurry of glistening tentacles clamor under a door for a bag boy snack.
What’s worse the monsters look terrible. “The X-Files” had effects that looked this good a decade ago. The unimpressive CGI-arms-with-teeth, Darabont’s opening salvo, would fit in nicely in “Planet Terror” or TV’s “Stargate SG-1,” but here the sub-par effects work stands in stark contrast to Darabont’s stylized reality of yet another small town in Maine.
In typical Darabont – and for that matter King – fashion the ensemble cast is designed to represent the ideological spectrum. A group of locals and a few lucky out-of-towners get trapped inside a grocery store as a mysterious cloud of mist overtakes the town.
The cast consists of familiar faces, many of whom are frequent Darabont film players, such as character actors Jeffery DeMunn (“The Majestic”) and William Sadler (“The Shawshank Redemption”). “The Mist’s” star Thomas Jane, plays David Drayton, a young father on a trip into town with his son Billy and next-door neighbor and attorney Brent Norton, played by Andre Braugher. Drayton and Norton’s troubled relationship plays heavily in the film’s first act as the store patrons clamor to decide on a course of action and who’s got the best plan.
While the plot is your basic claustrophobic horror film scenario, there is at least one deviation that stands out. Toby Jones, the voice of Dobby the House Elf in “Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets” plays Ollie, a non-threatening store employee who despite being surrounded by typical movie macho dudes, is cool under pressure. Ollie jumps tentacles and helms the only gun in the joint with geek bravado and wicked accuracy. Thomas Jane’s character is developed with more focus on his son and doesn’t go all Rambo at the first sight of trouble.
King’s fascination with religious zealotry has never been as overdone as it is here. The already flimsy story goes completely off the rails when King and Darabont allow a goofy schism amongst the hostages as the town’s religious fanatic Mrs. Carmody (Marcia Gay Harden) gains sway with most of the hostages, convincing them the mist is the wrath of a vengeful god who demands blood sacrifice for appeasement. We end up with a micro-”The Stand” inversion.
I can’t talk about the last ten minutes of the film in good conscience, but I will say that after watching three acts of a Sci-Fi channel Friday night special, tacking on the brutally melodramatic and philosophical ending to what felt like some other movie was an unappreciated jolt. Like cutting and pasting the end of “Dead Man Walking” on the last few frames of an episode of “Northern Exposure.” I left the theater sick to my stomach, not from exhilarating horror or heart-pounding suspense, but from the nauseating manipulation of the film’s closing moments.
I could be wrong, but my guess is this one has a lot more King and less Darabont than either “Shawshank” or “Green Mile,” and that is to the film’s detriment. King is a genius when it comes to imagining the bones of a story, but heavy editing has marked nearly all of his most successful film adaptations. Take the same location, cast, crew and director, and give them a script with substance and we’re off to the races. Even the much-maligned and saccharine sweet center of “The Majestic” has the substance and character “The Mist” is lacking. As a result, the film falls safely to the middle of the pack of Stephen King movies, a place Darabont has never been before.