Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Stephen King's The Mist (Dimension Films, 2007)



Seduced by the idea of catching the first showing of a new Stephen King movie in King's home town of Bangor, Maine, combined with an interesting article about the movie in last Sunday's NY Times, and the happenstance of actually being in Maine this week, led to attendance of today's 1:20pm showing at the Bangor Mall Cinema. No special festivities to denote the event, just the debut showing of a first rate horror film, the likes of which I haven't seen since overdosing on over-the-top monster/gore pictures in the 80's. Aliens (1986) topped the original Alien (1979) in that department as well as John Carpenter's remake of The Thing (1982) after which I decided I had seen quite enough.



In The Mist, a small town in Maine (the perfect setting for such shenanigans) is enveloped by a strange mist that follows a severe thunderstorm, trapping assorted townsfolk both locals and those from away, together in a supermarket as it is quickly determined that malevolent creatures are inhabiting the mist. Human nature and the demons within us prove almost as dangerous as the monstrous threat lurking just outside the plate glass windows of the supermarket, as director Frank Darabont plays the human side of the drama for all it's worth.



Darabont is no stranger to adapting Stephen King for the big screen, previously directing The Shawshank Redemption (1994) and The Green Mile (1999), two King dramas with no monsters. He's no stranger to good horror either, having written the third, and many would agree the best Nightmare on Elm Street movie Nightmare on Elm Street III: Dream Warriors (1987). He honed his storytelling chops writing many excellent episodes of The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles plus four more Young Indana Jones movies for network television.



While there may be too many characters trapped in this story to expect meaningful character development, the actors all do a superb job with what little and often stereotyped characters they are given to portray. Thomas Jane is totally believable in the lead role of David Drayton, a sharp minded and resourceful leader who is everyone's best and worst hope (though they don't realize it) of surviving the apparent disaster. It's always a treat to watch Andre Braugher act, here he plays Drayton's next door neighbor, a New York lawyer who proves to be such a jerk that it's hard to have any sympathy for him when he leads a band of like minded followers out into the mist.



William Sadler's acting shows perhaps why he's had more jobs in movies and television than any ten actors combined. Here he's a somewhat redneck reactionary (not too terribly far removed from his Roswell sheriff) who seems to be all too easily converted to a disciple of Marcia Gay Harden's religious crackpot character. Toby Jones is great as the dweeby store manager who rises to the challenge in a way that you won't see coming.



(Spoiler alert) One of Steven Spielberg's well known skills is that he can terrorize you for the majority of the movie without ever showing you the shark. The Mist might have been a more effective suspense drama, perhaps scarier but in a different way, if it had an implied threat rather than the explicit monsters that attack at every turn. The idea that military scientists' experimentation has accidentally opened a door rather than a window into another dimension is no more preposterous than the creatures that are unleashed in The Mist. The artistic conception of the creatures and the havoc they wreak is right up there with the best of the genre, perhaps serving the purpose of making seem all the more realistic that the characters in The Mist might actually believe that their world is coming to an end.



According to the NY Times article, Darabont changed King's less defined ending in a way that received King's wholehearted endorsement, "saying that he would have ended the story this way himself if only he’d thought of it". The new ending is not just shocking at face value, but the fact that a major studio would greenlight such an ending is maybe the real shocker; not to mention that Rod Serling may very likely be spinning in his grave as we speak. Cinematography, sound, and special effects are all first rate. If such movies are your cup of tea, The Mist is not to be missed.


Photos courtesy of Dimension Films.

The Mist website.
Stephen King's website.

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