His name is synonymous with horror. Like
Poltergeist, he knows what scares you. And if he
doesn't, he'll make sure you don't, either, all the better
to blindside you with a horrible …something.
That's worked pretty well for Stephen King,
and when it comes to movies, writer/director Frank Darabont
has been well on his way to becoming synonymous with Stephen
King. Except the movies that worked haven't been the straight
up, let's scare the crap out of you King works - they've
been reasonably moving human dramas with only the barest
touch of darkness.
When King stretches out of horror, it works
really well. But not everyone can dip into horror, and with
The Mist, a terrifying novella turned into a bitter
screed against humanity, Darabont slips and falls.
Like the original novella, Darabont wastes
very little time in getting to the set-up. Yet in an effort
to establish the realness of the situation, the opening
scenes establishing David Drayton (Thomas Jane) as a regular
guy just drag. A lot of back story that has no bearing stumbles
through the mushmouth of Jane trying to sound educated (he's
an artist - painting a movie poster for The Dark Tower)
yet small town. It's a bad homage to Kurt Russell, the guy
who could have knocked it out of the park in his younger
days - oh, heck, and still could.
Back to the real story: Up near Castle
Rock, Maine, a strange mist comes down from the mountains
after a tremendous storm. As the shoppers in the local Food
Co discover, something horrible lurks in that inky whiteness,
something mindless and hungry.
Not, apparently, as mindless and hungry
as human nature. Just like on Gilligan's Island,
a good cross-section of humanity gets trapped inside this
grocery store. There's amateur philosopher/check-out clerk
Ollie (Toby Jones), local hottie Sally (Alexa Davalos),
a bunch of yokels led by William Sadler and a group of young
military guys wishing they'd left town just thirty minutes
Oh, and because that wouldn't turn everything
into Lord of the Flies on its own, the local crazy
Mrs. Carmody (Marcia Gay Harden) begins preaching the apocalypse.
In order to force drama, Darabont makes sure we see how
nuts and evil those crazy Christians are.
Whether or not you agree with Darabont's
portrayal, it's a tired gambit. It's also borrowing more
from Joe R. Lansdale's short story "The Drive-In" than King's
novella. Yet the biggest flaw in using this as a plot device
is that ultimately, Mrs. Carmody is right. It is
our hubris that has brought down The Mist - specifically,
that of the military, an explanation not only telegraphed
from the first appearance of a government jeep, but increasingly
annoying that not a single character bothers to ask the
obviously guilty local boy about it for over a day.
But then, everybody acts stupid in this
movie. Big city lawyer Brent Norton (Andre Braugher) believes
that all of this is an elaborate practical joke because
the locals hate outsiders. A group trying to get medical
supplies from the pharmacy next door fails to notice that
everything, EVERYTHING, they touch has a thick layer of
otherworldly cobwebs on it. Until, of course, it's too late.
Darabont also trusts that his character-driven
internal drama will hold everybody's attention for long
stretches. Maybe it would have, if he'd written actual characters
instead of relying on his actors to bring turgid dialogue
to life. Or if he had a lead that isn't such an obvious
wanna-be caveman. From the outset, you can't believe that
Jane would be a painter when he works so hard to be a macho
alpha male, just dying to thump something.
The Mist does have tension, waiting
for each monster attack. Despite the unbearable whiteness,
Darabont shows too much, and they grow too mundane. Eventually
giant mechanical spiders start looking like mechanical spiders,
when they're meant to be Lovecraftian horrors.
Then Darabont goes farther than King did,
and that's a mistake, too. A forced, misanthropic ending
absolutely ruins what little force this film had. But it
does give Jane the chance to do the primal scream we all
heard at Comic-Con after dark - listen closely, I think
he's still sobbing, "Brubaker…"
Go back and read the novella. It may take
more time than watching Darabont's The Mist, but
it will be far less a waste of it.