The Mist (2007)
Directed by Frank Darabont
Written by Frank Darabont
Original Story by Stephen King
Starring Thomas Jane, Marcia Gay Harden, Laurie Holden, Nathan Gamble
Frank Darbont has one massive feather in his cap. He adapted a Stephen King novella into one of the greatest films of all time — The Shawshank Redemption. An avid fan of King, he went on to adapt The Green Mile, which was not as warmly welcomed, but had an admittedly tough act to follow. So for the duo’s third collaboration, The Mist, there was reason to approach with reserved enthusiasm. Ultimately, the film stays true to nearly every aspect of the book. However, the sparing moments when it strays are so vital to the overall picture that it becomes simultaneously entertaining and disappointing.
The Mist was originally an audiobook experiment, designed to immerse the listener in the story through “3-D Sound” long before surround sound was invented. Despite being over twenty years old, the story’s message remains as potent as ever and has a simple plot that is easily modernized.
Probably the most exciting moment for King fans will come during the opening credits. The first time we meet protagonist David Drayton (Thomas Jane), he is designing a movie poster for what fans will immediately recognize as The Dark Tower, a moment probably thrown in just to tease fans about the future film by J.J. Abrams. But his artwork is quickly destroyed when a tree crashes through his window. A massive storm comes crashing down on the small east-coast town of Bridgton, Maine.
The next morning, Drayton heads into town with his son Billy (Nathan Gamble) and neighbor Brent (Andre Braugher) to buy repair supplies at the local general store. All the while, the local military base seems to go on high alert, and a strange, thick mist slowly begins approaching the town. Suddenly, Drayton and everyone else who decided to stock-up after the disaster find themselves trapped in the store as the mist quickly covers the town, bringing death and strange creatures with it. What remains is a two-fold struggle. Over the span of three days, survivors struggle to understand and resist the mysterious threats from outside, while simultaneously fighting to survivor amongst each other.
Though the film starts strong, it begins to degrade midway through, around the time it seems Darabont felt the need to spell things out for the audience. The mist and the bizarre creatures that exist within it provide the supernatural spooks for those that need them in a horror movie, but the real terror comes from the very real, very truthful portrayal of how humanity reacts in a crisis. As one character clearly points out, people are basically good until the power doesn’t work and their food is running low. That is what is really scary about the mist. When taken out of our comfort zone and presented with a scary, unfamiliar situation, humanity is quick to turn on each other look for desperate answers, even if they aren’t the right ones. Though Mrs. Carmody (Marcia Gay Harden) is generally regarded as the town nut, her passionate bible-thumping religious fanaticism quickly begins to appeal to others as fear overwhelms them. Instead of banding together, the survivors begin forming factions and blaming one another for the crisis they are in. Religious zealotry and our general distrust for one another quickly surpass giant insects as the primary threat to our survival.
I’ve always enjoyed the story’s commentary on blind religious devotion and the fragile structure of our civilized society, and for the first half the film does an equally great job. Without trying to personally offend anyone, the story shows how seemingly civil and friendly people, when scared and confused, will quickly disregard the rules of society and turn to things for answers that they previously found irrational. Religion becomes the warm blanket most reach for to shield themselves from the cold of the unknown. Even if the answers it provides are wrong, people prefer wrong answers to no answers.
Things begin to fall apart when the characters begin explaining this to the audience. The subtly of the film is discarded for dialogue so contrived, I half-expected Rick Moranis to walk in, turn to the camera and say “everybody got that?” Whether or not this was done because Darabont felt the audience would miss out or because he doubted the intelligence of viewers is unknown, but it hurts the film.
Jane gives a lukewarm performance as Drayton, having surprisingly humorous moments of deadpan delivery and only showing major fault when it comes to portraying distressful emotions. Harden easily steals the show with her powerful and convincing performance as the self-righteous and overbearingly judgmental Camody. Trust me, you will hate her.
Fans of King will be upset and disappointed by the new ending Darabont penned for the film, I know I was. I’m by no means a purist when it comes to film adaptations, but the new ending is not only depressing, but contradictory to the ideas presented throughout the film. King’s original work ends in a very open, ambiguous way. The new definitive ending seems pointlessly tacked on to a movie that is an otherwise religiously faithful adaptation. It contradicts character developments established throughout the film and ignores common sense to a degree. The film’s message become muddled and lost in five minutes of shock, which is disappointing to say the least. This is not something only readers will notice. The dissonance between characters’ actions throughout the film and the ending will likely be met with a resounding “huh?” from audiences.
So what is the lesson learned from The Mist? Great directors can take great stories and still only make mediocre movies from them.