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THE MIST

Review by Michael Jacobson

Stars:  Thomas Jane, Marcia Gay Harden, Laurie Holden, Andre Braugher, Toby Jones, Nathan Gamble
Director:  Frank Darabont
Audio:  Dolby Digital 5.1
Video:  Anamorphic Widescreen 1.85:1
Studio:  Dimension Films
Features:  See Review
Length:  126 Minutes
Release Date:  March 25, 2008

“There’s something in the mist!!”

Film *

I was actually watching The Mist with my girlfriend when, at one point, she got up and went to the kitchen.  “Don’t pause it,” she told me.  I asked if she minded if I fast-forwarded instead.  She said no.

I didn’t actually do that…that would be shirking my duties as a reviewer.  But it summed up our feelings about the movie pretty neatly.  If you had told me beforehand that a movie directed by Frank Darabont based on a Stephen King story could be this bad, I would have suggested you check the dosage on your prescription medication.  After all, these were the artists who had triumphed incredibly with films like The Shawshank Redemption and The Green Mile.

The Mist marks Darabont’s first foray into King’s horror, and while there are ingredients a-plenty to craft a solid, character-driven scarefest out of the material, the resulting movie is anything but effective.  If I had to describe it in a single word, it would be irritating.

Thomas Jane plays David Drayton, a movie poster artist living in, I presume, King’s ever prescient fictional town of Castle Rock.  As the film opens, a terrible freak storm wreaks havoc on the town, leaving everyone without power and Drayton heading to town with his son (Gamble) and his frequently-fueded-with neighbor Brent (Braugher) to get some emergency supplies.  They also notice a strange mist on the lake.

They arrive at one of those…I don’t know, combination hardware and grocery stores, but a bloodied screaming man quickly appears.  Something is in the mist, and soon, the mist has enveloped the store and the town.

Here we get the first semblances of the Idiot Plot…despite the man’s graphic description of what happened to his friend, people still want to leave the store and make it to safety.  They don’t get far.  Then, in an attempt to resuscitate the generator, a loading bay door is opened, and something even more horrific happens.  Yet it doesn’t stop people from saying it’s nothing and still trying to get out.  We’ve all seen this kind of insanity in horror before, but rarely have there been people this damned stupid who deserved their fates so damned much.

Naturally, there’s a crazy Bible-thumper amongst the hodgepodge of humanity, one Mrs. Carmody (Harden), who begins to preach the apocalypse with furor.  And naturally, instead of working together to address the real problem, there is division amongst the folks as to those who would follow David and those who want to drink Mrs. Carmody’s Kool-Aid.

The constant warring of citizen against citizen gets a little grating and annoying, like fingernails on a chalkboard.  Even a bit of suspense as strange creatures infiltrate the store isn’t enough to get these morons focused on staying alive rather than bickering. 

The threat, which I won’t describe in detail, is formidable and suitably frightening.  But if Darabont’s intention was to create a Twilight Zone styled commentary on how man’s greatest enemy is himself, he botched it by making a film where people behave so unbelievably and so gratingly that you just don’t give much of a crap about who, if any, will survive.  And of course, the explanation for the menace is as throwaway as it gets:  some kind of dimensional rift created by the military.  Yes, friends, you know you’re watching a Hollywood production when the real villains of the piece are the military and the Christians.

This is a talented cast, but I blame Darabont on the fact that if you didn’t know these actors, you’d swear they couldn’t act.  There’s a lot of screaming, but no one can pull it off.  They’d have been better off with a stock recording of a hundred or so Wilhelm Screams. 

Marcia Gay Harden has a particularly thankless job as the typical movie notion of a “Christian”, who’d rather wield power and pronounce judgment than offer comfort and help.  But by the time she starts demanding human sacrifices, it’s gone way too far, and you’ll start thinking about what other movies you have in your collection that you could be watching instead of this.  Maybe even The Green Mile.

The only cast member who shines is young Nathan Gamble, who offers one of the best child performances I’ve seen in a long time.  He’s thoroughly convincing as David’s scared son.  Maybe he’d seen some of the dailies from the shoot and realized how atrocious the film was turning out, and his fear was for his burgeoning career.

Much has been made about the “shocking ending”, which I won’t reveal.  I can say that no, I didn’t expect it, but neither was I that surprised by it.  The entire movie was over the top, so why not the final stab at a bit of dramatic irony?

I’ve admired Frank Darabont greatly in the past, and even have his autograph.  But prior good will can only go so far when an artist missteps this badly.  One more movie like The Mist will be enough to convince me he really only got lucky his first couple of times out.  And he won’t be able to pull a nondescript dimensional rift out of his bottom to change that.

Video ***

Like in John Carpenter’s The Fog, the presence of mist makes for an easy way to scare.  You don’t have to show too much to create fear.  The presentation is occasionally murky as a result, but balanced well with scenes that offer incredible contrast and detail.  The opening shot of David in his studio is as well-done as you could see on disc.

Audio ****

The 5.1 audio is where the DVD really shines.  Sound is important in horror, and there’s enough of both subtlety and power to keep the proceedings lively.  Ambient sounds from the rear will keep you guessing as to what’s coming next.  The dialogue is clean and clear throughout, but given the nature of it, might have been better served as a little muddled from time to time.

BONUS TRIVIA:  The poster David is working on in the opening is Stephen King’s The Dark Tower.

Features ***1/2

Disc One features a solid commentary from Darabont; a generous and interesting listen as he discusses his ideas and thoughts behind his adaptation.  There is also an appreciation for Drew Struzan, the artist who actually designed David’s posters.  Rounding out are eight deleted scenes with optional Darabont commentary and three webisodes from the production of the film.

Disc Two has an interesting extra:  Darabont always envisioned his movie as a black and white offering, and here, you get to see the entire feature that way, along with an introduction by Darabont (in black and white, of course), explaining why.  There is a making-of featurette, and three looks at complicated effects shots in the movie.

Summary:

The Mist joins Popeye near the top of my own special list I call “When Good Directors Make Bad Films”.  It’s really disappointing, not only because of what Frank Darabont and Stephen King have accomplished together in the past, but because there was a much better movie waiting to come out of this aggravating mess.  Forget trans-dimensional monsters; somebody save us from the Hollywood that thinks Christians and soldiers are the biggest threat to mankind.

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