Sunday, April 13, 2008

Review: The Mist (2007 film)

Except for a spirited final five minutes, Frank Darabont's recent cinematic adaptation of Stephen King's novella The Mist is a complete loss.

Wait, back up.

Except for a spirited final five minutes and an earlier scene in which a bagboy is gorily eviscerated by an alien tentacle, Frank Darabont's recent cinematic adaptation of Stephen King's novella The Mist is a complete loss.

Let's try that one more time.

It's easy to see what Darabont is going for in The Mist: an urgent thriller about a group of people trapped in a supermarket surrounded by an ominous mist, the physical monsters spewing from the smoky depths outside reflecting the psychological monsters taking hold of the terrified people inside. Overgrown creepy crawlies will be gorily battled, terrified townfolk will be picked off one by one, and the building's four walls will begin to seem increasingly constricting as hysteria begins to boil with the rise of mob mentality.

So what went wrong? Well, including characters that behave and interact in a natural manner wouldn't have hurt. The first sign of trouble occurs early on as two local yokels lash out at Thomas Jane's everyman protagonist, deciding to belittle him and read class condescension into his cautious suggestions. It unfolds awkwardly and unearned, their words inexplicable. It's not that their behavior is impossible, just that the script, direction, and acting don't build enough to make the sale. The scene is reduced to a display of bizarro world behavior that destroys any suspension of disbelief.

Unfortunately, it wasn't a momentary gaffe as much as a template for things to come. Trapped townsfolk respond to a late-night invasion of giant insects by turning on all the lights. A tow-headed son tears from protective arms during a moment of danger for the express purpose of giving the protagonist someone to rescue. Characters saddle themselves with an elderly lady while walking as slowly as possible through the exposed parking lot during an expedition to an adjacent drug store. People repeatedly decide that the best way of reacting to life-threatening danger is to dancing around long enough to die, instead of, you know, getting the hell out.

The worst suspension of disbelief violation, however, is the third act that sees Marcia Gay Harden's religious old-testament crackpot reduce a store of normal townfolk to slathering cult fiends within a twelve hour period. It's a feasible plotline but the movie, again, fails to make the sale. Harden's cartoonish preacher is simply too nasty and crass, a shrill zealot bereft of any charisma whatsoever. Successful cult leaders berate and insult, yes, but don't they also occasionally tell you something you want to hear?

As if two hours of unbelievable people doing dumb things isn't bad enough, visually the movie is a clumsy, disorienting mess. Darabont seems to be attempting a cinéma-vérité style that unfolds like a true crime reality show, but the result is a disjointed television drama punctuated with mediocre CGI beasties. "Amateurish" isn't a word I would have previously associated with the man behind The Shawshank Redemption, but The Mist's numerous 180 degree rule violations and baffling crash zooms imply otherwise.

But then we get to the ending, a climax so relentlessly bleak that it deserves applause on some level. The previous two hours may be one misfire after another, but it takes true balls to foist such a soulcrusher on an unsuspecting audience. Advance warning had me waiting for it, but every time I thought we had reached the bottom Darabont yanked out the floor and tumbled things deeper. The black ending does carry a "gotcha!" that reduces the film somewhat to Twilight Zone episode territory, but ultimately the protagonist's fate is dark enough to graft itself to one's consciousness until it can be fully absorbed a few days later. As such, a success.

But imagine how much better that ending would have been had we actually cared.


hadjare said...

Gonna have to go back and read this when the Mist no longer has a wait on Netflix.

scots chris said...

You knew it was coming after our brief chat this arvo, my rebuttal review.

Warning: it's rather lengthy and the spoilers fly without abandon.

Bill S said...

Laura: I tried to keep my review mostly spoiler-free; hope I didn't ruin too much.