357 – The Mist

Stephen King’s 1983 short story (more of a novella, really) is pretty well realized for the big screen by Frank Darabont (The Green Mile, The Shawshank Redemption), although the ending might leave viewers cold, not chilled. The effects are excellent, as Hollywood strangely (and wisely!) decided to ease off the overproduced special effects for a change, and the result is that when we do see the creatures, we’re suitably terrified, especially since the camera never lingers long on any of them.

The basic setup is that a storm of the century has shut down the power in a small New England town, and the next morning a thick mist is rolling across the town’s large lake. Dave Drayton (Thomas Jane) gathers his eight-year-old son and, accompanied by his caustic neighbor Brent Norton (Andre Braugher), heads to the supermarket to load up on groceries. When they get there, they find that pretty much everyone else in town has the same idea. And it seems like just the usual bad-weather madness until a local citizen bursts into the store, blood on his chest, screaming about how creature from the mist took his friend, and dadgum it everyone better GET INSIDE CLOSE THE DOOR AAAH THEY’RE COMING, and sure enough, as the doors are closed, the mist comes rolling in, and people stay the heck where they are.

But it soon becomes apparent that this is no ordinary mist, and that old man might have been on to something – something IS out there, but the mist is so thick no one can tell what it is. And that’s where the story really gets under your skin. What manner of creature is outside the store’s walls? Is it faster than a man trying to get to his car? Is it small, but vicious? Or is it gigantic? Is it even benign? (No, it’s not.)
In other, less-deft hands, a story like this would have been a typical monster movie, as our Intrepid Hero saves the world from sure destruction. But this isn’t about man versus the monster, it’s about man versus the unknown – and man versus man.

Almost all of the action takes place inside the supermarket. There are level-headed (but scared) people, like Dave, Amanda Dumfries (Laurie Holden), Ollie (Toby Jones), and Irene (Frances Sternhagen), and then there are the so-scared-they’re-irrational people, like Mrs. Carmody (Marcia Gay Harden, whom I thought was miscast, possibly because I’d always envisioned Kathy Bates in the role) and Jim Grondin (William Sadler), and Norton. In a lesser movie, the theme would be that all of them must work together in order to survive, but that theme isn’t given a chance here, as would be the case in real life. There’s no rousing speech about how everyone’s in this together; people become unhinged and unwilling to listen to reason at the drop of a hat, because the unknown of the mist is too much to bear.

That’s where Mrs. Carmody comes in. She’s a Bible-thumping fanatic of the Old Testament, and she sees the mist and its denizens as a sign from the Almighty, and as the movie progresses she becomes more and more like a seer to the easily swayed – and sees herself as a righteous martyr who will someday sit beside God. In other words, a disaster like the mist gives a kook like Mrs. Carmody the perfect opportunity to save souls, whether they want to be or not, and her zeal gives the lesser-minded individuals something they can hold on to, rather than using their minds for practical survival.

Dave acts as the de facto leader of the survivors, mostly because no one else steps forward, not even the three almost-on-leave soldiers trapped in the store. But not only must he find a way to get out of the store and past the creatures, but he has to deal with the escalating insanity of Mrs. Carmody, whose rantings attract a larger and larger congregation, ending in tragedy.

The only real issue I have with the movie is the ending, which differs wildly from that in King’s original printed story. You would think that a Hollywood ending would be more tangible, thus giving the viewer better closure. Well, we do get some closure, but the result is that you feel like you’ve been kicked in the stomach. The finale is so unsatisfying, you wonder what the heck the preceding two hours were supposed to be for.

**1/2

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