Monday, November 26, 2007

The Mist (2007)

After a long history with the Stephen King novella The Mist, Frank Darabont has finally seen his dream of making it into a feature film realized. Darabont had planned on adapting it into a feature in the early 1980’s, just after it had been published, but other projects, like his adaptation of King’s Shawshank Redemption and The Green Mile, took precedent. After years of waiting for one of King’s fans’ favorite short stories to make it onto the big screen, has Darabont succeeded with The Mist?

After a particularly destructive storm, David Drayton (Thomas Jane) and his young son (Nathan Gamble) head into town to stock up on supplies. While in the local grocery store with a good number of other townsfolk, a thick mist quickly rolls into town, heralded by a bloody man that runs into the store and warns everyone that there are “things” in the mist…things that kill. After everyone is witness to the mist’s destructive nature when a lone man runs to get to his car just as it descends on the town, they lock down the grocery store until they can figure out the situation. When all attempts at escape or calling for help fail, the local “fire and brimstone” woman, Mrs. Carmody (Marcia Gay Harden), takes it upon herself to warn everyone that the end of times has come. Soon, the people in the store are not only threatened by monsters in the mist, but the human monsters in their midst.

Going into The Mist, I really wasn’t expecting much more than a CGI monsterfest. When I came out, I was pleasantly shocked. Darabont has created a tense and frightening film that will leave you stunned. Like his non-horror King adaptations of Shawshank and Green Mile, The Mist is a classy affair that boasts impressive acting and classic chills and thrills.

From the dramatic opening the film will have you hooked. Once the characters make it to the relative safety of the grocery store, the tension only mounts. After the mist hits the town, the chaos and confusion within the store feels extremely realistic and you can’t help but be as shocked as the townspeople are. To assist in the realistic feel, Darabont utilizes hand-held cameras to give a sense of immediacy to the dramatic proceedings. I found this to be a bit too “television crime drama” for my tastes, but it does give you the feeling you are right alongside the panicked patrons.

The characters trapped in the store are all strongly characterized. From the unlikely hero of Ollie (scene-stealer Toby Jones), a grocery store clerk, to the reluctant leader David and the zealous and hateful Mrs. Carmody, you can’t help but feel for all the characters. Each character is flawed and therefore made more human and easily relatable because of that. My only problem with the characterization was the portrayal of Mrs. Carmody, which quickly turned into an exaggerated caricature. She was a bit too over the top for me.

The acting was very well done from everyone involved. Thomas Jane proved himself as a very capable leading man. Marcia Gay Harden gave Mrs. Carmody some much needed humanity, though her character did come off as a bad caricature at times. All of the supporting actors, including Laurie Holden, Andre Braugher, Jim Grondin, Chris Owen and many more, did a fantastic job as well.

The special FX in The Mist are impressive as well. I don’t understand the naysayers who have said that the CGI work is shoddy; from where I was sitting, it looked great! The monsters in the mist are vicious, and include a creature with blood-sucking, barbed tentacles, pterodactyl-like monsters, huge spiders that shoot acidic webs and have large spines on their backs, crab-like creatures that are several stories tall and a truly behemoth creature straight out of Lovecraft’s stories. Besides great creature effects, the film also boasts several nasty gore scenes, my favorite being when a man, who’s become a spider snack, bursts forth hundreds upon thousands of baby spiders.

These scintillating special FX aren’t just thrown in there to keep the audience awake because the rest of the film is just as good! The pacing is excellent and kept my attention the entire time, even though the run-time is over two hours. Between the threat of the monsters lurking in the mist and the growing threat of the fascist Mrs. Carmody, the tension is certainly kept taut. The action just keeps coming up until the end as David and a few others try to find a way out of their desperate predicament. The ending, which Darabont changed from King’s ambiguous one, is one that people will be talking about for a long time to come. It is appropriately tragic and dramatic, and will knock the wind right out of you!

Despite such glowing words over the film, I did have one other problem besides the caricaturization of Mrs. Carmody. The fade-to-black transitions used between scenes make The Mist look like another made-for-TV Stephen King flick. The awkward transitions were horribly out of place with the film’s otherwise high production values. These annoying fade-to-black transitions (I expected a commercial to come on each time they were used) chopped up The Mist and diminished my enjoyment a tad.

Of the horror films that have been theatrically released recently (30 Days of Night, Saw IV, etc.) the one I would recommend seeing the most would have to be The Mist. Despite the few problems I had with it, The Mist is an excellent monster movie and one of the best horror releases of the year. Its tense atmosphere, great creature design, wonderful acting and classic monster movie feel make it a very frightening and enjoyable horror film. It doesn’t have to rely on gore for entertainment (though it has its nasty bits), but instead frightens us with what is hidden – the monsters in the mist as well as the monsters within ourselves.

Available from Amazon!

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