Friday, April 17, 2009

The Mist (2007)

There's something in The Mist. Ghost pirates? No, that's The Fog. An obsessed female fan? No, that's Play Misty for Me. Pyramid head? No, that's Silent Hill. Vengeful plants? No, that's The Happening. Randy Quaid? No, that's Hard Rain.

Frank Darabont's Stephen King's The Mist is something entirely different. It's like fog, but mistier. Like if you left the humidifier on all day. And that humidifier opened a portal into a SciFi Original Movie that somehow got a wide theatrical release.

In the small town of Bridgton, Maine, a freak thunderstorm cuts the power and uproots every single tree in the tri-county area (leaving mailboxes and lawn gnomes intact). Local levelhead David Drayton (Thomas Jane) goes into town with his young son to get supplies. Nearly everyone is at the grocery store frantically grabbing cans of corn nog and wadded beef in a desperate attempt to survive the brownout. The local paper reports the loss of power, using their antique Gutenberg printing press.

The first 12 minutes of The Mist are actually quite good. They're subtle, quiet, and properly set the mood. Mist comes down off the mountain, but Drayton assumes it's from the storm. Trucks filled with soldiers from the local army base zoom by in the opposite direction. The build of terror comes to a head at 11 minutes and 25 seconds, when the emergency siren goes off and everyone looks outside to see a bloodied man running toward them.

Thirty seconds later, everything turns to crap. The old man has come to declare "something in the mist," and also welcome the introduction of terrible, melodramatic, dinner theater acting. Maybe Snidely Whiplash is in the mist, eager to tie helpless maidens to railroad tracks. This gives local religious nut-job Mrs. Carmody (Marcia Gay Harden, unaware there's a New Testament) perfect opportunity to spout obnoxious, longwinded sermons about repentance and Judgment Day.

Naturally, everyone starts freaking out and knocking things over. One woman left her two children at home, with the 8 year-old watching the younger. She is livid that no one will reward her for being a terrible parent, and storms off in a huff.

Drayton sees something in the loading dock, and tries to warn the others. They don't believe him, even though they too refuse to leave the store. Instead of investigating Drayton's claims, they stand around discussing it for an inordinate amount of time. Of course, Drayton is right, and a giant tentacle beast pulls the smartass stock boy into the mist.

Drayton must now explain to the others what he saw, and why no one heard the violent, bloodcurdling screams coming from the loading dock. His neighbor, Brent Norton (Andre Braughter), doesn't believe him, assuming the giant monster, buckets of blood, severed tentacle, and dead stock boy are all part of an elaborate practical joke. Ha ha ha. Classic!

Eventually, the creatures get into the store, and despite everyone's best preparation (work-lights, revolver, flaming mops), the entire scene is an exercise in Murphy's Law. One man knocks over a bucket of lighter fluid and sets himself on fire. After the siege, Drayton and about 70 other people must go across the street to the pharmacy to retrieve medicine for the burned man.

The pharmacy mission is also a debacle. After entering the store (which posts its hours backwards so the customers can know the approximate time they're inside), more bugs emerge, and instead of running away, most stand around screaming or stabbing them with pointy sticks.

Mrs. Carmody gathers a devout following of True Believers, who preach and practice some of the basic tenets of Christianity such as murder, long speeches, and child sacrifice. This gives Carmody even more opportunity to talk for extended periods of time. Are her shrill religious screechings about stem cells and abortions too subtle for you? Need someone to tell you exactly what to think and how to feel (sorry Darabont, Morgan Freeman wouldn't narrate this one)? Bring in Ollie (Toby Jones) the store's wise assistant manager. Here are some classic Ollie quotes:
  • "They've lost their sense of proportion. Out there in the market they were scared and confused. In here there's a problem they can solve. And they're God damn gonna solve it!"
  • "You can't convince some people there's a fire even when their hair is burning. Denial's a powerful thing."
  • "As a species we're fundamentally insane. Put more than two of us in a room, we pick sides and start dreaming up reasons to kill one another. Why do you think think we invented politics and religion?"
These lines are no longer on the nose. They are now in the nose and halfway to the brain.

One of the worst things an action film can do to its audience is not provide enough action. There is a perfectly good 70 minute monster flick in The Mist, but it's wrapped around 57 minutes of people standing around talking. There is a lot of acting and not enough reacting.

Secondly, every single character must do something completely moronic in order to progress the plot. Giving one character the Idiot Ball is lazy writing, but The Mist is Idiot Dodgeball. Everyone scrambles over each other to see who can make the stupidest decision first. It should be hilarious, but Darabont treats the material with such sincerity (without actually enjoying it) that it becomes a chore. His script extracts chunks of long dialogue directly from King's novella, never stopping to consider whether they'd be appropriate for a film.

The Mist, like Frank Darabont's career, had so much potential. It is beautifully lit and shot. Thomas Jane does a good job with his role. The twist ending is atrocious, but no less atrocious than anything leading up to it. It could have been a fun movie, but Darabont somehow makes a story about giant bugs from an alternate universe boring.

What to drink:

Lighter fluid, and lots of it.

Quotable (non-Ollie) quotes:

(after the grocery store shakes violently for about 45 seconds) "That was an earthquake!"

"Won't somebody here see a lady home?"

"This isn't an ordinary mist."

"What the hell were those tentacles even attached to?"

"How about if your ass prepares to meet my size 10 work boot?"


Arbitrary ranking system:

32 divided by 0.


An exercise in Murphy's Law

Mrs. Carmody gets hers.


  1. Just watched the last hour and fifteen minutes of The Mist... Time I'll never get back.