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Monday 26 November 2007

Movie Review of The Mist

by Howard Waldrop & Lawrence Person

Directed by Frank Darabont

Written by Frank Darabont, based on the novella by Stephen King

Starring Thomas Jane, Marcia Gay Harden, Laurie Holden, Andre Braugher, Toby Jones, William Sadler, Jeffrey DeMunn, Frances Sternhagen, Alexa Davalos, Nathan Gamble, Chris Owen, Sam Witwer, Robert C. Treveiler, David Jensen

Official Site: The Mist

Lawrence Person: If Stephen King were as smart as he is rich, he'd never let anyone but Frank Darabont direct another film based on his work. Though this is only the third best of Derbont's King adaptations, behind The Shawshank Redemption (currently weighing in at #2 on the IMBD of best all time films; too high, IMHO, but not an unreasonable choice), and The Green Mile, it is the best adaptation of a straight King horror work since Carrie. It also a very faithful adaptation of King's original novella, in both strengths and weaknesses (actually, Carrie is a good point of comparison).

Howard Waldrop: This is from Stephen King's novella — part "The Monsters are Due on Maple Street" — part The Cosmic Monsters — part The Deadly Mantis — part The Birds — the kinds of things King grew up watching and wanted to be when he grew up. Take average Joes and Janes, put them in an emotional pressure-cooker and sic the inexplicable on them (the Serling, The Birds); experiments gone awry (The Cosmic Monsters), big things eating people in the fog (The Deadly Mantis).

LP: After a huge storm, a painter (Thomas Jane) and his son (Nathan Gamble) leave his wife at their lake house home to pick up supplies at the local grocery store, giving a lift to his prickly lawyer neighbor (Andre Braugher). While there, the mist of the title rolls in, bringing with it unseen monsters. First comes the battle to make people believe there are really monsters outside the store, then battles against them as they break through the glass wall at the front of the store, then the internal division lead by unbalanced fundamentalist Mrs. Carmody (Marcia Gay Harden). A treatise on lifeboat morality and the breakdown of civilized values with the fast-forward button nailed down (with all its attendant pain, agony, death and suffering) ensues.

As in Darbont's previous King projects, the acting here is uniformly excellent. Marcia Gay Harden's turn in the Piper Laurie role is especially good, giving Mrs. Carmody just enough irony and matter-of-factness to make believable what is essentially a living caricature. Andre Braugher (most famous for his exceptional portrayal of Detective Frank Pembleton on Homicide), plays the skeptic's role with just the right touch of wry understatement. And Toby Jones turns in a pitch-perfect portrayal as Ollie, the quiet, diminutive assistant manager who is forced by circumstance to become a common-sense tower of unexpected strength.

HW: The acting is universally good, and there are dozens of familiar faces you've seen before but don't know the names of. (I spent half the movie believing Jeffrey DeMunn was James B. Sikking whom I haven't seen for a looong time; Frances Sternhagen is in it, and she was an MTM alumnus, so why wouldn't it be Sikking? I asked myself. I was wrong.) The actors in some cases are better than their parts as written.

This is the best King horror adaptation I've seen; and the acting is better than in anything else based on his work (I missed Shawshank Redemption and The Green Mile) since Stand By Me.

LP: It is also far superior to 1408, a movie that tried to throw everything and the bathroom sink in. The Mist keeps a much tighter thematic focus, which is one reason it has a much bigger dramatic and emotional payoff.

HW: Since I hadn't read the original novella, I had to go by what was up there on the screen. Except for the standard "Never get off the boat" intentions (endemic to the horror genre) this follows through on nearly everything it sets up. (Darabont is a slightly better director than he is a writer.)

The logic of the monsters and the place they came from is ignored — for once, the right decision. We see some kind of other-worldly ecology in action, and we're on our own after that.

LP: The weaknesses of the film are fairly minor and generally come from King's novella (which is still a hell of a work, having first appeared in Kirby McCauley's Dark Forces in 1980, thus falling squarely in the middle of King's period of greatest creativity from 1974-1986). It's too obvious too early exactly where the story is going with the fundamentalist character. While having a fundamentalist as a villain had some novelty value when Carrie came out in 1974, in 2007 it's become a cliché, especially given King's propensity to go after such easy targets with all the gusto of a man testing a new 12-gage on a barrel of pike. Likewise, the brief philosophical discussion of the nature of mankind (Ollie, standing in for the authorial voice, comes down squarely on the side of Mr. Hobbes) comes across as a little too obvious on the screen as compared to the page.

But these are very, very small quibbles. This is an exceptionally good and unusually disturbing horror film. There's also one scene, straight out of the novella, of something huge striding high above the road, that produces a true sense of (terrifying) wonder.

HW: It's like the whole movie takes place in the café scene in The Birds — chaos is outside; people are commenting and speculating on it (while the gas station blows up). The stuff with the webs in the pharmacy is straight out of Beast From Haunted Cave — it worked in 1959 when Roger Corman did it — it works in 2007 from Darabont.

LP: Does it ever. The scene in the pharmacy is the one most likely to give viewers nightmares. And frankly, if I had seen a man eaten from within by otherworldly spiders, and only narrowly escaped such a fate myself, The Book of Revelations might start to seem pretty rational by comparison...

HW: The CGI stuff (if that's what it is) is pretty impeccable — there are small things, two-foot things, and things the size of six-story buildings (the square/cube law doesn't work where they're from). The effects work never fails, and the human/ things interaction always looks right. You can't ask for more.

LP: The ending has been slightly changed from the original novella: If you've read it, you are probably wondering if it's more or less bleak than the original. The answer is "Yes."

(By the way, in case you were wondering, yes, the music near the end is by Dead Can Dance, namely "The Host of Serepham". There's just no mistaking Lisa Gerrard's voice.)

HW: If you're looking for a horror movie (probably the best since The Host), this won't let you down. It's the first existential horror film in a long time.

© 2007 by Locus Publications. All rights reserved.