After the sub-Capra goo of The Majestic (2001), it’s no surprise to find the overrated Frank Darabont running back to the arms of Stephen King, since his claim to fame rests entirely on two King adaptations, The Shawshank Redemption (1994) and The Green Mile (1999). It’s a little more surprising to find him embracing one of King’s horror stories, however, and more surprising still that he managed to bring the film in at only slightly over two hours. (Shawshank ran 142 minutes, while Green Mile weighed in at a great whacking 188 minutes.)
While both the relative brevity of the work and its general lack of pretension help, Stephen King’s The Mist is never more than a competent and slightly lazy shocker festooned with occasional stabs at importance. It’s not bad, which is to say you get what you paid for—assuming what you paid for is seeing a solid B-list cast being eaten by a variety of icky monsters lurking in the titular mist.
King has himself made a big deal out of the fact that the film eschews CGI effects in favor of old-fashioned stop-motion animation for the creepy horrors. That’s admirable (even if not 100 percent true), but the effects still look like effects and lack the sense of solidity that Christophe Gans achieved in blending floor effects and CGI in Silent Hill (2006). At best, the various and sundry beasts are serviceable.
The story is Stephen King basic: a group of people isolated in some way having to face some unknown terror. In this case, it’s a cross section of society trapped inside a grocery store by a strange mist that literally teems with monsters. (There’s a ho-hum explanation late in the film for how this happened, but it really doesn’t matter.) King and Darabont use this setup with an eye toward making a somewhat broader statement about humankind—and possibly as an allegorical attack on the influence of the religious right on American society. While this ultimately plays out effectively as concerns the impact of the town’s religious fanatic, Mrs. Carmody (Marcia Gay Harden), some of the earlier setup is remarkable in its clumsiness. Even granting that folks might be reasonably skeptical that there are monsters lurking outside the store, it seems incredible that no one hears the screams of the first victim, and some remain stubbornly unswayed by pools of blood and a severed piece of monster tentacle. It’s simply preposterous that ill-tempered, big-city lawyer Brent Norton (Andre Braugher, 4: Rise of the Silver Surfer) is convinced that this is all an elaborate joke being played on him by the local yokels.
Once the situation is clear to everyone (retrieving only the lower half of someone who went out into the mist will do that), things move much better, and the scenes with Mrs. Carmody collecting converts to her “end of days” scenario are effectively unsettling. They’re also the only time the film gets anywhere near being more than a simple monster movie. In terms of horror, the spider scenes in the pharmacy next to the grocery store are probably the best; they’re certainly the creepiest.
Much has been made of the film’s “daring” ending, which departs from King’s novella. Anyone actually surprised by the ending needs a remedial course in Twilight Zone episodes. No doubt sophomores in a high-school literature class would find it the last word in irony. I simply found it a pointlessly depressing embellishment to a film that doesn’t really support such an attempt at weightiness. Rated R for violence, terror, gore and language.