Mark Reviews Movies


3 ˝ Stars (out of 4)

Director: Frank Darabont

Cast: Thomas Jane, Marcia Gay Harden, Laurie Holden, Andre Braugher, Toby Jones, Nathan Gamble, William Sadler, Jeffrey DeMunn, David Jensen 

MPAA Rating:  (for violence, terror and gore, and language)

Running Time: 2:07

Release Date: 11/21/07

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Review by Mark Dujsik

Right now, there's a mist blocking my view of Lake Michigan, Lake Shore Drive, and everything three blocks north and south. It's certainly ominous, but then again, it's Chicago. I've also received news that a Ph.D. student was murdered a few nights ago about ten blocks from me. He was only a month away from his doctorate. I ponder these facts in regards to Frank Darabont's The Mist, because the film touches upon the frightening fantasy of monsters hidden in the mist and the unsettling reality of monsters walking revealed among us.

The film is an adaptation of a Stephen King novella, and it's the fourth time Darabont has adapted one of King's works (the first was a short "The Woman in the Room" from a collection of adaptations from King's short story anthology Night Shift). His two famous ones are The Shawshank Redemption, a masterful prison drama about two inmates who become great friends, and The Green Mile, a supernatural prison drama about the lives of death row inmates and guards, but with The Mist, Darabont ventures from King's human dramas to his more commonly associated genre. From those two films (and his underrated, overlooked The Majestic), one wouldn't imagine Darabont would have a horror film in him, but one would be wrong.

David Drayton (Thomas Jane) is painting in his studio (King aficionados will get a chuckle out of the piece on which he's working). Outside, a storm is brewing. He stands by his picture window with his wife (Kelly Collins Lintz) and son Billy (Nathan Gamble) watching the wind kick up and lightning flash over the lake. The three go down to the basement, and a tree crashes through the window. The next morning, David spots a looming mist over the lake and looks over the damage, including his boathouse, which has been crushed by his neighbor Norton's (Andre Braugher) tree. The two already have a bad past.

David visits with his neighbor to exchange insurance information, and after sharing a moment over Norton's destroyed Mercedes, Norton asks if David will take him into town with him to gather supplies. David, Billy, and Norton drive to the grocery store. There's no cellular service, the telephone lines are down, and the power in the store is out. While waiting in line, townie Dan (Jeffrey DeMunn) runs across the parking lot and into the store, screaming, "Something in the mist!" Soon after, the mist sweeps over the lot, surrounding the store.

The people in the store are scared. Dan's alarming warning that something within the mist took his friend has some people worried to step foot outside. A woman tells everyone that she left her eight-year-old daughter in charge of her younger brother and wonders if anyone will "walk a lady home." No one does. Cursing them all, she leaves, disappearing into the miasma. Soon people become divided. Norton, a sensible lawyer from New York, becomes a leader for those who think nothing is out there. Soon it will pass, and they will all be fine.

Mrs. Carmody (Marcia Gay Harden, an actress whose quality is usually up in the air but great here), a Bible-thumping woman spouting portents of the end times, thinks the mist is a sign of punishments to come. David is focused on his son, who has been shocked into sobbing uncontrollably for his mother and sucking his thumb in his stupor, taking refuge in the soda aisle with some older women and Amanda (Laurie Holden), who caught his eye briefly as he first entered the store. They all want to care for Billy, and they do while David's focus shifts after asking bagman Ollie (Toby Jones) for a blanket for his son.

It all builds steadily, eerily, and suddenly, David, Ollie, townies Jim (William Sadler) and Myron (David Jensen), and bagboy Norm (Chris Owen) are fighting for their lives against an onslaught of tentacles that have entered through the loading door from the otherworldly light of the mist. These aren't ordinary tentacles; they have teeth (fangs are more like it) that can rip off large chunks of flesh. Ollie wonders, "What the hell were those tentacles even attached to?" He also wonders how they can hope to keep it from coming into the store when the entire front section is plate glass. The mist is home to even more horrible things, like unnatural dragonfly creatures with stingers, and if you think of the mist as the habitat of an entire ecosystem with predators for those predators of men, you can start to imagine what other things reside within it.

Sections of the film play out as pure creature feature, complete with disturbing setpieces of carnage and gore, like when those dragonflies get into the store or terrifying discovery at the neighboring pharmacy, where a stalwart band of grocers decides to traverse when headache medicine simply isn't enough anymore. The special effects of the creatures are scary, not because they interact seamlessly, but because they have character—menacing, carnivorous character.

Darabont captures the ensuing battles and slaughters with handheld cinematography from Ronn Schmidt; it's immediate and unexpected. The other part of the story is about the cliques that form out of the situation. Norton and his crew come to a decision, and its outcome is only hinted at with a three-hundred-foot length of cord. Mrs. Carmody forms a group, too, based on the idea that God has wrought this punishment on humanity and only blood can atone for it.

Her group grows, making the few rational people left appropriately uneasy, and we see how society breaks down within a matter of a few days when dealing with something beyond any rational explanation (There is one, we discover later in the film, but it's details—something to do with a military project—are unnecessary to the thrust of the plot). Yes, the monsters are creepy, so much so that Billy makes his father promise that he'll never let the monsters get him. They're also the impetus, though, for a different kind of beast. Which set of monsters is worse: the ones not of this world or the ones gathering by the frozen food section with murder on their minds?

Stephen King adaptations are hit or miss, and Darabont has made two of the best before. With The Mist, he's made one of the better ones and definitely one of the best of King's horror-themed works. Darabont even succeeds in trying to out-King King with the ending. King himself has said that "anybody who reveals the last five minutes of this film should be hung from their neck until dead." Is it that good? Yeah, it's pretty damn unnerving.

Copyright © 2007 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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