Thomas Jane, Marcia Gay Harden, Laurie Holden, Toby Jones, Frances Sternhagen
WRITTEN AND DIRECTED BY
Frank Darabont (script based upon Stephen King novella)
There's something to be said for unbridled cynicism.
I'm not sure what, exactly, but there's something to be said for it.
Writer/Director Frank Darabont, whose recent cinematic ventures have been more of the warm and fuzzy types, travels back to his horror flick roots with his latest Stephen King adaptation, "The Mist," a film that is as much about the monsters within as it is the monsters that lurk outside.
Those familiar with King's novella will know the basic storyline...an overnight storm in a small Maine town leads to a mist enveloping the town and trapping two dozen or so people inside the local grocery store.
If you've ever been enveloped by the fear of the unknown, then you'll know what to expect next as "The Mist" becomes, essentially, two films in one. The first film involves Mrs. Carmody (Marcia Gay Harden), a religious zealot to the most extreme, who interprets the surrounding events as God's Armageddonish wrath upon their sinful society and manages to convince more than a few of the folks she's right. The fact that she couldn't quite nail the name of the biblical book, Revelation NOT Revelations, should have given the folks a clue...but, I digress.
The second film involves those who know Mrs. Carmody is a tad off her rocker and begin to plot to escape, including movie poster designer Dave (Thomas Jane, "The Punisher"), his son (Nathan Gamble, "Babel"), a benevolent schoolteacher (Laurie Holden), the store manager (Toby Jones) and the earthy elder (Frances Sternhagen).
While "The Mist" isn't a particularly brilliant film, it is a surprisingly effective one that blends both Darabont's gift for humanity with audience-pleasing thrills and chills.
Unlike Darabont films such as "The Shawshank Redemption, The Green Mile" and "The Majestic," the cinematography in "The Mist" takes things a little bit more out of focus by utilizing a handheld style that, at times, almost makes the film feel like a documentary. While this approach is often effective in addressing the fears and anxieties of the humans held captive inside the grocery store, it falls noticeably short when it comes to creating a vision for the "monsters" created on the film's obviously modest budget.
I've occasionally found myself pondering the current political and religious climate in the world and wondering "what if" the American way of living collapsed. What if a nuclear bomb went off? What if, somehow, a fundamentalist country somehow took over? In many ways, Darabont's "The Mist" answers the "what if" with resounding cynicism and conviction.
The cast is uniformly strong, even when the lines they are forced to say border on histrionic and caricaturish. This is never more true than with Marcia Gay Harden, who is simply wonderful as Mrs. Carmody, despite often seeming to screech and hoot and holler her way through these final hours of the final days.
On the other side, Thomas Jane offers a competent performance with the exception of a startlingly unconvincing final scene that seemed to be a bit beyond his dramatic range. Brit thesp Toby Jones, on the other hand, gives his mild store manager remarkable depth while Frances Sternhagen sparkles as a fiery elderly woman with tremendous spirit.
Films such as "The Mist" are never, not even in a Darabont horror film, about the performances or, for that matter, the plot. "The Mist" is, as it should be, about the anxiety, fear, scares and creatures inside and outside.
The main problem with "The Mist" is that Darabont allows his intellect to get in the way and, as a result, many of the film's potential scares and chills are muted by Darabont's consistent need to reveal exposition through dialogue. Perhaps Darabont's intent was to provide a sense of credibility to this horror genre film, however, he ends up diluting its effectiveness and while the film remains chilling and suspenseful, its true horror is at least modestly watered down.
As I neared the end of viewing "The Mist," I found myself already contemplating its destined B-/C+ rating when IT happened...an ending, not necessarily unexpected, but so downright gutsy that my esteem for "The Mist" was immediately lifted even as the mist itself was not. Stephen King himself has said he'd have given the book such an ending had he ever thought of it.
So, there you have it. Frank Darabont returns from the critical and box-office failure of "The Majestic" with a solidly entertaining, intelligent, suspenseful and gutsy journey through "The Mist."
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic