Even though The Mist is Frank Darabont's third Stephen King adaptations, it might seem odd for the director of The Green Mile and The Shawshank Redemption to direct a horror movie. That is, until you realize that his feature-length debut behind the camera was on the TV movie Buried Alive, and his early screenplays included A Nightmare on Elm Street 3, The Blob, The Fly II and Mary Shelley's Frankenstein. So then, the more appropriate question is: why did it take him so long to direct a horror movie?
The day after a violent storm strikes a small town in Maine, a mysterious bank of fog comes rolling down the mountainside into town. It soon becomes apparent (to some, at least) that there are unknown creatures hiding in the smoky darkness who seek to kill anyone who ventures into the mist. Forty or so townsfolk barricade themselves in a grocery store, including artist David Drayton (Thomas Jane) and his son Billy (Nathan Gamble), plus their crotchety neighbor Brent Norton (Andre Braugher) and town newcomer Amanda Dumfries (Laurie Holden).
The group quickly breaks into factions. Some, like Norton, don't believe that there are monsters in the mist and proceed to leave the safety of the store. It's not immediately clear if any of them make it to safety -- they just disappear into the cloud -- while others most definitely do not make it and end up in various states of dismemberment. Of those who remain in the store, associations form along religious lines, with Mrs. Carmody (Marcia Gay Harden) leading a group proclaiming a biblical apocalypse.
As Mrs. Carmody converts more and more people to her side, David, Billy, Amanda and a select few resist her fanaticism, which eventually leads to a call for a human sacrifice. Everyone must put aside their differences, however, and unite to defend the store from the beasts outside. There comes a tipping point, though, when David and company must decide whether it's more dangerous to stay put or to venture out into the mist.
The End Product
There's a great story deep within The Mist, one exploring the nature of humanity and the lengths to which one will go when motivated by fear. It's the rare type of tale that will make you search your soul to uncover just how you would react in a similar situation. (Note to self: always park in the fire lane of the grocery story.) Unfortunately, the story's impact is muddied by grating characters, suspect acting and a dearth of genuine scares.
Our lead characters are flat and uninteresting. David's biggest dilemma before the mist rolls in is having to redo a painting that was ruined in the storm, while Amanda is new to town but has no back story to make her recent arrival pertinent. Billy, meanwhile, snivels and cries throughout the whole movie, which might not be so annoying if the actor wasn't obviously three years older than the character he plays.
Unfortunately for us, these are the people we're supposed to like. The rest range from anal-retentive urbanite Norton to "good ol' boy" Jim Grondin (William Sadler) to egomaniacal cult leader Mrs. Carmody. A brief romance develops between Sally (Alexa Davalos), one of the store's cashiers, and a local Army private (Sam Witwer), but they're an even more vanilla couple than David and Amanda.
There's also a disturbingly hateful streak that runs throughout the film. Although The Golden Compass has received the brunt of anti-religion charges, you could easily level a similar charge against The Mist -- not only with the overzealousness of Mrs. Carmody's converts, but also in the way that she's demonized the first time she even suggests a biblical explanation for the fog. Amanda slaps Carmody across the face for postulating an "end of days" -- an action that hardly seems justified, but in Darabont's world, it's wholeheartedly sanctioned.
The universal disdain shown by the characters towards Mrs. Carmody at the start of the crisis makes the mass conversion to her side by the end all the more implausible. For the sake of argument, though, let's say that the bulk of the group suddenly changes its mind and decides that there's a religious explanation to the mist. Is there not one person outside of David's clique who would balk at the thought of a human sacrifice? The over-the-top fanaticism might have dramatic impact, but it causes the film to lose its grip on emotional realism.
The hatefulness in The Mist extends all the way to the movie's climax. (I won't delve into the fact that every black person of note dies, something you'd think the director of The Green Mile might want to avoid.) Written by Darabont especially for the film adaptation, the ending is a mixed bag that on one hand ties into the theme of fear-induced mania but on the other hand feels unnecessarily nihilistic. And, in the hands of Jane's stilted acting talents, it rings hollow.
- Acting: C (Marcia Gay Harden delivers a deliciously evil performance, but Thomas Jane is action star-stiff.)
- Direction: B- (Not surprisingly, Darabont is at his best when directing personal interaction rather than scares.)
- Script: C (Potentially offensive on several levels, including the bitter pill of an ending.)
- Gore / Effects: C- (The makeup is solid, but the cheesy computer-generated creatures should stay hidden in the mist.)
- Overall: C (A great story receives uneven treatment.)
The Mist is directed by Frank Durabont and is rated R for violence, terror, gore and language.