Staring: Thomas Jane, Marcia Gay Harden, Laurie Holden, and Nathan Gamble
Written by: Frank Darabont (screenplay)
Stephen King (story)
Directed by: Frank Darabont
When I first heard that Stephen King’s early 80’s novella The Mist was being made into a feature film, I must admit I was more that a bit concerned. A movie based on a classic story is always a scary proposition. There are just so many ways it can go wrong. People have lived with the tale in their heads for so long; painted so many lasting mental pictures…the images you put up there on the screen are sure to suffer by comparison. And God forbid you make changes! The fan boys will eat you alive.
For those unfamiliar with King’s twisted, apocalyptic tale, let be give you the basic details. After a horrible thunderstorm, David Drayton (Thomas Jane) takes his son, Billy (Nathan Gamble), into town for groceries and a few supplies. Soon a thick mist rolls in, cutting the supermarket off from the outside world. When some run out into this fog to try and get to their cars, their departure is followed almost immediately by screams of terror and pain. Yes, it soon becomes evident that the mist is hiding something truly grotesque, but even more monstrous than the unseen evil in the swirling haze is the breakdown of humanity happening within the confines of the store. Believing this to be God’s wrath, local crackpot Mrs. Carmody (Oscar winner Marcia Gay Harden) begins to build a dangerous and deadly cult, and soon David is left with a terrible choice: face almost certain death outside, or risk his son becoming a human sacrifice on Aisle 2.
The cast assembled here is top-notch. You can see the determination to survive in Jane’s eyes, hear it in his voice. Young Gamble gives an amazing turn as his son. Frightened, funny, and at one heartbreaking moment, clearly just as shocked as the audience. And Gay Harden gives her religious zealot a few moments of tearful vulnerability that show she’s not a broad caricature. Some may watch the treatment of her character and call The Mist anti-Christian. It’s not. It’s just anti-insanity. Those who are unwilling to believe there are monsters in the mist are just as crazy as those willing to believe any of this carnage could possibly be for God’s benefit.
To heighten the film’s dramatic intensity, Darabont chose to shoot with hand-held cameras, using the crew responsible for FX’s The Shield. Many horror and action directors of late have confused “hand-held” for “shaky-cam,” giving us scenes that look as if they were filmed by people on jackhammers, but not Darabont. The images are just tight enough and jittery enough to convey tension and unease, but they never confuse or nauseate. And as a fan of King’s work, Darabont knows what scenes readers have been waiting to see for twenty years. Rest assured, we see tentacles whip and witness spiders the size of Great Danes crawling across the screen (yes, friends, the trip to the pharmacy next door is just as creepy as you remember it), but even more frightening are the things we don’t see. Something comes up to the door and drags off the carcass of a dead shopper, but it is never shown. Something else has claws and legs that lash out of the mist and snap people in half, but it remains shadowed…mysterious…chilling.
And just as the writer/director knows what to preserve from King’s text, he also knows what needs to go. There was a romance in the story. It developed too quickly and felt very wrong considering the fate of their families trapped out there in the haze. I wondered how Darabont would be able to make it work. Simple. It’s not there. A minor change, but one that was necessary and—in my opinion—improves upon the source material.
Which brings us to the ending.
Quite frankly, King didn’t have one. In his story…The Mist just…well, it just stops. The reader has no idea what happens to David, his son, or the other survivors. For all his faithfulness, Darabont deserves major applause for having the guts to go where King failed to tread, giving us an actual conclusion. It is as shocking as it is improbable, but it is a finale that will have you talking and thinking long after the final credit fades from the screen. And as you exit the theater, look at the people around you, look at your own children and loved ones, and ask yourself…what would you do if you were in that same situation? The fact that none of us really knows may be the most frightening thing of all.
4 out of 5 stars.