Saturday, November 24, 2007

A trip into Frank Darabont's often-magical "Mist"

For one of Stephen King's shortest works, it's amazing just how much "The Mist" manages to capture all of his strengths and faults in one glass, and what Frank Darabont does in mixing them up makes for one of the best horror movies I've seen in many years (which, given the state of horror flicks now, really isn't setting the bar all that high.)

Like with all of King's best works, "The Mist" starts with an extremely clever premise. I don't know about you, but few things scare me more than what happens to human beings when a few (or a lot of) snow flakes fall to the Earth. Setting "The Mist" in a grocery store with a crowd trapped inside by the mysterious cloud surrounding it perfectly sets up the neuroses that will quickly unfold.

And as is almost always the case with King, he then loads this up with very broadly drawn characters and a plot that stretches things almost too far but not quite, which is for me why he's been much more palatable in short bursts like the novella or the two-hour-or-so movie rather than a full novel.

Darabont's movie adaptation is at its strongest when the monsters that emerge from "The Mist" are off-screen, when Marcia Gay Harden slowly takes over the movie as the Bible-beater Mrs. Carmody. It's a stereotype that would have offended in lesser hands, but it's a delight to watch the trapped folks divide into factions behind her or the protagonist played by Thomas Jane, a commercial artist who's trapped in the store with his young son and is just begging for us to get behind him (which makes Darabont's tacked-on ending all the more sensational.)

And there's one moment before the mayhem is unleashed that is just good, old-fashioned horror flick fun. It comes as some of the creatures, which look like big mechanical bugs, start to land, one by one, on the store's window. I won't spoil it for you any further, but I guarantee you'll be smiling as Darabont uses sights and sounds to build up the suspense. Yes, that's right, suspense, the most noticeable omission from the gorefests that have posed as horror for years now.

Where the movie started to fall apart a bit for me was with the creatures themselves. I liked that their origin, though perhaps related to the military, was left appropriately murky. But they just looked way too robotic and phony to invoke any real terror, though I do confess I jumped a few inches out of my seat more than once.

Now, before I go, I'd like to discuss two things about "The Mist" - one I loved and one I hated - that will thoroughly spoil the movie for anyone who hasn't seen it, so please, please, please don't read any further if you haven't seen it yet (and if you're wavering, definitely do.) First is the aforementioned ending, which Darabont cooked up himself (which takes some huevos when you're working with such strong source material, I must say.) The moment when Jayne's David Drayton emerges from the car, even if Jayne overplays it more than a bit, is just the perfect twist that King or, back when he was in top form, M. Night Shyamalan, might have concocted. For a movie that is, at its best, all about the consequences of human decisions, seeing what happens to a character you thought all along was right is pretty darn devastating.

But Andre Braugher, once again, is desperately in need of a new agent. As I warned you, this is 100-percent spoiler material, so I'll just warn again, don't read this paragraph unless you've seen the movie already. What happens to Braugher's very poorly drawn character (basically, to put it as crudely as possible, "the dick"), goes way beyond the notion that the black guy is always the first (or one of the very first) to die in a horror movie. As Braugher led, and I'm not making this up, almost all the black people out of the store (with a "you people" thrown in just for good measure, I guess) and into the mist, I was still hoping they would somehow be redeemed rather than being the opening courses of monster chow. What in the world did Andre Braugher, easily one of my favorite actors, ever do to deserve this?

Even with this rather big beef, however, I can heartily endorse Frank Darabont's "The Mist" as a good, old-fashioned terror yarn, and recommend that everyone go see it along with Amy Adams' arrival to the big time (which I'll be taking in tomorrow.) Peace out.


J. Marquis said...

Cool. Thanks for the recommnedation. I've liked Thomas Jane since Deep Blue Sea.

Linda said...

I saw this today and thought it was good at combining the horror of crazy monsters with the horror of human nature in a crisis. Agree with you on the "sacrifice" scene, I almost said "what the @*#%?" out loud, when I saw the group leave the store. In my eye the film makers made a big mistake there. Other than that, good stuff with a disturbing, yet fitting ending.

Ashok said...

And for the first time in my life, I loved a horror genre movie :-). I have been pushing away "The Shining" for the reason of it. I do not want this sin to be continued :-). And yes, the ending and Andre's character seem kind of unbelievable. But a terrific movie of its kind.

J. Marquis said...

I liked it a lot. Interesting debate between the religious folks and the more rational ones.

Marina said...

I'm really surprised at the relatively positive comments I've heard and read about the movie but more than that, I'm happy to hear that it manages to get over the big bug thing I had such a problem with in the trailer. I hope to get to it this week - it's a toss up between "The Mist" and "Love in the Time of Cholera".

I hate making decisions!

DCMovieGirl said...

I disliked thsi film more than you did.

The ending (yeah, Jane's over-emoting made me giggle) and atmosphere just didn't work for me.

And yes, Andre Braugher needs a new agent. Though, this is the second Stephen King production he's been in, so maybe he has a thing for King.

I was never frightened or in suspense, though the violence did impress me. The creature design? Not so much.

Book provides much more lee-way for imagination in the creature design than the film ultimately delivered.

And the lack of a soundtrack was a poor choice, indeed.

Reel Fanatic said...

There were certainly points in the movie where a score would have helped, dcmoviegirl, so we can definitely agree on at least that much ...

Toto said...

Wow, I couldn't disagree with your review any more. The dialogue made me cringe, Andre's character is just as awful as you acknowledge and Mrs. Carmody's character is so collosally over the top that it drains away all the tension. How much better would it have been had she slowly, carefully convinced the others to take her side. Instead, her converts take about two days to surrender their past beliefs. The military angle is badly handled, the subplot between the soldier and the checkout girl is laughable ... oh, we'll have to agree to disagree on this one!

Reel Fanatic said...

I guess we will, Toto ... Maybe I just have a lower standard for genre horror flicks than I do for most others, but I still enjoyed this one quite a bit

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