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The Mist

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 earlier.

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.

Derek McCaw

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