The Mist (6/10)

A lot of critics and even some people I’ve met are hailing The Mist as some supernatural thriller that asks deep psychological questions, the most important of which is, when faced with death, do humans turn against each other, and if so, what do they find? Monsters? Are these monsters worse than what lurks outside. Do not be fooled. The Mist is little more than a glorified sci-fi channel late-night horror movie, with the only thing differentiating the two being three factors: slightly better actors; special effects light-years ahead, but still not top-notch; and this one’s in theaters. The Mist is exactly what you would expect from the trailers, the posters, and the buzz. There’s not a single surprise to be found among it, all, save for a few spotty (and debatable) “oh!” moments here and there in the film, and even those are spoiled by how ludicrous they are.

Based on the novella by Stephen King, The Mist opens in a small town in Maine (surprise surprise), where, a film and book artist, David Drayton (sounds like he belongs in a Stan Lee comic book), has his work destroyed by a freak lightning storm. The next day he goes to the local supermarket with his young boy and his rival sue-happy lawyer neighbor, Brent Norton, to get some supplies for what looks like what will be a long week ahead of them. Little does he know that for the next few days he’ll be surrounded by all the supplies he’ll ever need, but terrified to go outside, for fear of the mysterious mist that soon envelops the town and traps Drayton, Norton, and a host of other quirky smalltown folk in the supermarket. Soon monters start to appear in the mist, the doomsday prophesying Mrs. Carmody starts, well, doom-saying and prophesying, and it’s up to Drayton, the artist-turned-natural-born

-leader-inexplicably-buff-dude, to figure out how to beat the mist. My personal idea was to use a vaccum cleaner, but somehow that never came up.

The cast in the grocery store is a checklist of B-movie horror cliches, worse than many of those that populate the Saw franchise, and that’s saying something. There’s the cool/nerdy clerk who ends up having a hand in saving the day (of sorts); there’s the one I mentioned earlier, the dooms-day prophesying crazy Christian woman; there’s the main character’s child, whom he has to protect and promise that he will never let anything happen to him; there’s the love interest that results in tragedy; there’s the converts; the true believers; the heroes who die tragically; the idiots who die tragically…and so on and so forth. It’s lazy and annoying and even if it is a kind of homage to Rod Serling, it feels more like a copycat than an original creation.

Casting is both a strength and weakness of the film. Marcia Gay Harden’s character doesn’t really do anything except say, “Hey, you’re all going to hell unless you believe me.” That may not sound so bad on the surface, but once you get into the movie you really really really really wish someone would just shoot her. I know her character is supposed to be an idiot, but good actors can play off an idiot in a likeable way (if that sounds right), and what the usually extremely talented Harden fails to do here is play off anything as parody or even cheese. She takes it all deadly seriously and never once is her character really funny or satirical. All her character demonstrates is King’s and Darabont’s inability to fathom what goes on in the mind of a real Christian. This is the same doomsday-speaking Christian that we’ve seen in a dozen other movies, and even her Christianity from her point of view doesn’t make sense. She says she only believes in an Old Testament god, but then goes on to extensively quote Revelation, which is in the New Testament last time I checked. Perhaps I’m being too harsh because I myself am a Christian, but I don’t think so. A perfect example of what Harden should have done is Ollie, played by Toby Jones, who knows every second of the film that he’s in a ridiculous adaptation and doesn’t once take himself too seriously. The rest of the cast works okay for the film (Thomas Jane as Drayton is the best one), but they are often tiresomely unimpressive. Norton’s character of the skeptic is also fairly annoying, as he takes umbrage at everything everyone says and refuses to believe even the most obvious of occurrences. If a monster grabbed him around the waist he would still claim that someone was projecting an illusion or something.

Other instances of annoyingly bad cliches are how everything that can go wrong does. When monsters raid the store, suddenly everyone becomes a stumbling klutz just so they can get devoured and or stung. Other times some characters just stand there and scream instead of running, or just say something stupid. After Drayton has defeated a tentacle by chopping it off, leaving it sitting there in a pile of its own stink, he asks his buddies, in a very worried voice, “How are we going to make them [the people in the store] believe us?” I’m sitting there thinking, “You have a freakin tentacle, buddy. Use it!”

The special effects do their job, but they are not first rate. All the bugs and spiders look like they are made out of cardboard. A lot of them are fairly frightening, and the movie thankfully doesn’t skimp on the blood or gross-out factor. At one point a man explodes because his body is full of tiny spiders. Horror fans looking for gore and gross-out won’t be disappointed, but anyone looking for any true scares will leave the theatre with their heads hanging. The only time The Mist approaches being truly frightening is near the end of the film (which easily bests everything that came before), where Darabont veers from King’s open-ended ending with a solid smack in our faces. I won’t give it a way, but it’s an ending that you won’t forget. Its only problem is is that it seems like obvious way to go if you weren’t going to follow King’s story, and doesn’t really give Darabont much credit for his imagination.

When the trailers for this film first came out, I watched it and was intrigued right up until when the trailer began showing flying insects and monsters, giving away absolutely everything about the film. The best monster movies have always been one that hide their secrets well and don’t show the monsters too much. As any fan of horror knows, what you can’t see is always, ALWAYS, scarier than what you can. The Mist’s only redeeming factor is that I’m pretty sure what’s onscreen is exactly what the filmmakers wanted. They wanted to give us a B-movie sci-fi channel horror flick, and that is what we have.. Sure, it’s overlong, and like a lot of King’s work, near the end it meanders off and doesn’t seem to know what to do with itself. Also, the explanation that ends up being given for how the Mist was created is a bit predictable as well as extremely unsatisfying and very, very, very, very pointless. The Mist won’t give you misty eyes with its story, but it may make you do a double-take the next time you see some low-hanging fog. I’m pretty sure that’s about all teh filmmakers wanted.

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