The Mist (2007) dir. Frank Darabont
Starring: Thomas Jane, Marcia Gay Harden, Toby Jones, Andre Braugher
“The Mist” might have been a good movie if it were made in 1980 when Stephen King’s novella was first published, and if John Carpenter hadn’t made “The Fog.” The film plays around in several sub-genres of horror and just can’t decide which film it wants to be – a kitschy monster movie, a serious post-apocalyptic thriller, or a character-driven chamber drama. The film is also handicapped by the Stephen King jambalaya of his usual themes and characters, and so it feels like a story we’ve seen before and done better.
The film opens with the quickest set up imaginable. A big storm has just hit a small community in Maine. In the morning, our hero David Drayton (Thomas Jane), sees across the lake a mist floating towards his house. Drayton and his son go to the local grocery store for supplies when a raving mad local runs into the store and tells everyone there’s something ‘evil’ in the mist. A scream is heard in the distance and suddenly everyone decides to barricade themselves in the store.
Once in the store, it becomes a chamber drama conflict between the various personalities. There’s the skeptic lawyer, the God-fearing Evangelical, the cocky redneck hillbillies, the hot blonde babe etc etc. It’s all fear-based suspense, until real monsters in the form of giant mutated insects eventually emerge and lay siege to the store. The internal human conflict divides the survivors into two groups – the regular people and the Evangelical zealots who think it’s Revelations coming true. Drayton leads the regulars out into the mist to find safety, but instead discovering something even grimmer.
If the set up sounds like John Carpenter’s “The Fog”, you’re right (coincidentally released the same year King’s novella was published). “The Fog” is far far superior to this King/Darabont production. Darabont is not sure what kind of film he wants to tell. The set up is no-nonsense. It doesn’t take more than 5 mins before the mist is established as evil and all our characters are in the store. Unfortunately there is little suspense in setting this up. There’s no ominous music, or teasing shots of the mist, it’s just too fast and sudden. But then I thought, ‘ok, Darabont is respecting his audience, assuming they know the genre and is not wasting time with unnecessary exposition’. Unfortunately Darabont puts the first act through ringer by having a lengthy internal conflict about what’s in the mist. This lasts a good 10 mins of screen time and is surprisingly sloppy, amateurish with no creativity.
The second act kicks into gear when it becomes a pure genre monster film. The battle with the giant insects produces a series of fun genre goodness sequences including healthy doses of bug splatterings, ass-kickings, and face-suckings. Towards the end of the second act the fighting stops and the heavy-handed social commentary starts. Marcia Gay Harden’s Evangelical character Mrs. Carmody refuses to take “shut-up” for an answer and keeps yelling out her apocalyptic scripture. Eventually people start believing her rhetoric and join up with her clan. The irony is laid on thick from this point on, including the ending, which is as subtle as a bull in a china shop.
By the end Darabont’s conscious attempts at profound irony yanked me around too much and moved away from its genre roots into a low rent Twilight Zone territory.