Based on the novella by Stephen King, "The Mist" has been a long-gestating candidate to receive the cinematic treatment, caught in development hell for over ten years. Swooping to the rescue is writer-director Frank Darabont, no stranger to King adaptations having previously made 1994's "The Shawshank Redemption" and 1999's "The Green Mile
." Indeed, "The Mist" would appear to be a can't-miss proposition based on the chilling premise alone. Following an overnight storm, a small Maine town is overtaken by a mysterious mist that traps two or three dozen people, including movie poster designer David Drayton (Thomas Jane) and young son Billy (Nathan Gamble), in a local grocery store. Cut off from electricity and the rest of society, desperation for answers and fear of the unknown strip some of the inhabitants to their most primitive instincts. Others, meanwhile, plot a way to escape while dodging the otherworldly creatures lurking outside.
"The Mist" begins with a crackerjack idea for a horror filmthough, it should be said, not terribly different from the one more atmospherically explored in 1980's John Carpenter classic, "The Fog"but is let down by a number of disheartening factors. For a movie dealing with monsters in a malevolent mist, the elicited fear factor never rises above a faint hum. The designs of the creaturessome of them tentacled, others looking like oversized moths, still others that should be left for the viewer to discoverare lackluster and not particularly scary. It doesn't help that the CGI used to bring them to life give away a modest budget. Simply put, they look like computer-created images roughly pasted into a live-action world, and this shoddy effects work in the early scenes instantly takes the viewer out of the onscreen action. If a film fails at making an audience believe what they are seeing is real, as this one does, it hasn't competently done its job.
Aiming to do the Stephen King story justice, writer-director Frank Darabont does not skimp on attacking one of the same themesthat what is hiding within a person's own human nature can be just as dangerous as any supernatural monster. Making this point loud and clear is Mrs. Carmody (Marcia Gay Harden), an over-the-edge religious zealot who believes these events are a signal of the end of days. As she begins swaying many of the other trapped people over to her sermonizing extremist beliefs, David and Billy, along with kindly school teacher Amanda (Laurie Holden), store manager Ollie (Toby Jones), and elderly spitfire Irene (Frances Sternhagen), realize they are doomed if they stay put and might be better off making a run for David's car.
"The Mist," then, separates into two different pictures. One is a B-movie creature feature, while the other depicts the characters' conflicts within the store. Neither, unfortunately, garners the impact it should. The way in which the people's sanity collapses feels strained, particularly considering that the entire film takes place over about three days. That is not nearly long enough to swallow the notion that some of them would be committing suicide, and others would be rashly plotting human sacrifices. These scenes of discussing what to do and arguing back and forth are pretty slow-going, sabotaging a pace that should be mounting with breathless tension. As for the more broadly horror-centric spook sequences, they are few and far between and rarely, if ever, exhibit the level of terror that they should. The mist of the title should be a harbinger of doom hanging weightily over the characters, not the equivalent of an innocuous day player.
Despite there being a lot of dialogue, this is not an actor's kind of film and most of the characters are stuck in one dimension. Thomas Jane (2004's "The Punisher
") equips himself well as the bland sort-of hero of the piece, David Drayton, while Laurie Holden (2006's "Silent Hill
") is nice but boring as the female lead, Amanda. As David's distraught son, Billy, Nathan Gamble (2006's "Babel
") is touching in his more emotional moments, but too often he is asked to literally sleep his way through key scenes just so the script won't have to deal with him. Faring most memorably is Marcia Gay Harden (2007's "Into the Wild
"), embracing the savage and ugly side of the waywardly devout Mrs. Carmody, arguably as much a villain as the mist itself.
The ending of "The Mist," destined to be controversial, is as blackly ironic as it is bleakly imagined. Some viewers may praise its brazenly unconventional and downbeat denouement, while others will be rubbed the wrong way. Count me in the latter category. Without daring to give anything away, it should be observed that the way the events occur in the final five minutes are inorganically portrayed, as well as distasteful and ludicrous within the limited timeframe they are set within. Anticlimactic besides, "The Mist" takes a terrifying plot and then somehow manages to miss the mark and the scares. It is not that the film is out-and-out bad, only that it is a disappointing treatment of a Stephen King work that should have been faster, more suspenseful and more lingeringly haunting by a half.