The Mist (2007)

There are not a lot of the old grocery stores from the 1960s and 1970s left.  For the longest time they had a specific design, usually an arched or triangular awning over a front made of plate glass and aluminum, with doors that opened with a "swish" like in Star Trek.  It was the first thing a little kid noticed when going into the place, and definitely hard to keep them out of the way of everyone else as they figured out how the doors worked.  

Years later when I read The Mist in Stephen King's Skeleton Crew collection it was one of the immediate, most memorable stories by him.  These grocery stores were still quite common in the 1980s, and everything he wrote about in the story I could imagine happening in my local Lucky's.  King himself got the idea while visiting a store in Maine during an electrical storm, wondering what it would be like if insects and prehistoric creatures suddenly attacked.  It was one of the best novellas he had written, and it was a surprise that it took so long for a movie version to be made.

David Drayton (Thomas Jane) is a movie poster artist in the small town of Bridgton, Maine.  After a particularly bad thunderstorm that has resulted in a tree through their window and a loss of power, David decides that he should go to the local Foodland before it is picked clean.  In tow is Brent Norton (Andre Braugher), a neighbor with whom Drayton has had a number of disputes, and David's young son Billy (Nathan Gamble).  While at the store local Dan Miller (Jeffrey DeMunn) runs in, his face bloody, saying there is something in the mist that took his friend.

The mist soon engulfs the outside of the store.  When David goes into the storeroom to get a blanket for Billy he hears something at the loading dock door.  At first no one believes him, but when bagboy Norm (Chris Owen) attempts to go out to clear the generator vent he is dragged out by strange tentacles.  When Drayton tells Norton he is rebuffed, with Norton thinking he's being put on by locals.  It soon becomes apparent that Drayton was right, and a number of strange creatures, almost all predatory, are hiding in the mist.  Meanwhile, within the store, tensions mount as various escape attempts are debated and a local fundamentalist, Mrs. Carmody (Marcia Gay Harden), becomes convinced that the mist is a sign of the end times.

Frank Darabont directed The Mist, so it's no surprise that it follows the source material quite closely.  There are a couple changes.  One is the addition of a Private Jessup (Sam Witwer) in order to give some information on Project Arrowhead, a secret military project that may be the cause of the mist, without it being a exposition dump.  The other is that Amanda Dumfries (Laurie Holden) doesn't have an awkward stress hook-up with David Drayton during the proceedings.  Darabont's script did originally have them in an affair, and there is still some evidence of an attraction (at least on her part) in the finished film, but it is a part that is not missed. 

The biggest change Darabont made was the ending.  This has a conclusive denouement, where the story leaves things open-ended.  Stephen King liked Darabont's ending better, and it does work in this medium since it not only serves to give the audience a shock but to darkly satirize the oft-reused endings of 1950s science fiction films.  I personally still prefer the story's ending, which was one of the few times King's problem with ending a story didn't hurt it.  

I do wish that practical effects had been used more.  The shadowy crab things and the behemoth at the end look good, but the bugs and the pterosaurs might have worked better in stop motion.  I understand, with the tight shooting schedule, why Darabont chose to go CGI, but in general the majority of the creatures work better when they are silhouettes or just barely glimpsed.  

As the movie, like the story, takes place in an isolated location, the performances are typically more important than many of the creature effects anyway.  The true villain is Mrs. Carmody, one in a long line of Stephen King's religious nuts.  Along with Margaret White she is one of the most memorable, although she seems even more dangerously unhinged.  The only problem is that it is a stereotypical left-wing view of Christians, insane to the point of hilarity, and it is to Marcia Gay Harden's credit that the role never veers into camp.  If anything Darabont made it clearer how outside the norm Mrs. Carmody is when it comes to even her own religion.  

Thomas Jane carries the movie well, portraying Drayton as an everyman trying to bring some order to a bunch of people that would either like to show off how masculine they are or throw the first person out the door they can as a sacrifice.  One surprise character was Ollie Weeks (Toby Jones), the unassuming assistant manager of Foodland who steps up to help Drayton lead when the time comes.  I also appreciate the frenetic direction that Darabont adds to the story to make it more immediate. 

The movie, though well-done, is one I appreciate more than enjoy.  To answer a question I brought up earlier - why it took so long to bring this to the big screen - one just needs to ask whether or not the creatures in The Mist are truly frightening.  Whatever King himself imagined attacking the store, and what I imagined while reading his story, can be given a bit of life but will never equal that of the imagination.  It's the same problem with H. P. Lovecraft's stories.  That's why seeing a shadow of a creature or just the tentacles is more effective than seeing the creature itself.  In cases like this the monsters are more effective the less we see of them, since as soon as we do they are little more than another effect. 

The Mist (2007)
Time: 126 minutes
Starring: Thomas Jane, Laurie Holden, Toby Jones, Andre Braugher, Marcia Gay Harden
Director: Frank Darabont



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