More monsters, less misunderstanding: Is that so much to ask?
By Devin D. O’Leary
Directed by Frank Darabont
Cast: Thomas Jane, Marcia Gay Harden, Andre Braugher
Nothing says the holidays quite like a claustrophobic setting, a small knot of panicked humanity and a heaping helping of hungry monsters, right? For those who wish to wash down their Thanksgiving turkey with severed limbs, extradimentional creatures and a deadly dose of Stephen King, writer-director Frank Darabont is here to oblige.
Over the course of two movies, Darabont established himself as one of the more trustworthy adaptors of Stephen King’s literary canon. Of course, the two books Darabont chose (The Shawshank Redemption and The Green Mile) were two of King’s more atypical, horror-free efforts. Now, after years of promises, Darabont finally gets around to helming his dream project, an adaptation of King’s monster-filled novella The Mist.
Darabont’s script takes King’s slim story and inflates it to a two-hour-plus length. As in the novella, a random sampling of small-town New England residents find themselves trapped in a supermarket when a mysterious mist filled with ravenous, unspeakable beasties enshrouds their town (and possibly the entire world). Aside from a bunch of subplots and a somewhat more conclusive ending, Darabont sticks to King’s structure.
Thomas Jane (The Punisher) stars as artist/family man David Drayton. When a freak storm whips through their lakeside community, David and his young son pop over to the local supermarket to stock up on supplies. Almost immediately, a strange mist settles over the town, trapping people inside. It doesn’t take long to figure out that a whole horde of tentacled monsters are lurking in that mist just waiting to snack on any unsuspecting humans.
Darabont, by way of King, presents us with a cross-section of humanity, all of whom react to the situation in different ways. We’ve got a big-city lawyer (Andre Braugher) who, somewhat unwisely, chooses not to believe the evidence in front of him. We’ve got a mousy, middle-aged assistant manager (Englishman Toby Jones) who rises to the occasion. We’ve got a beer-swilling good old boy (William Sadler) who manages to screw things up on several occasions. We’ve got a hysterical Christian (Oscar-winner Marcia Gay Harden) who’s convinced this is the end of the world, praise Jesus. Inevitably, everyone starts fighting among themselves over what’s to be done. Stay? Run? Fight? Commit suicide? Pray to God? Thankfully, most of this contentious behavior leads to people being picked off by the monsters in assorted bloody ways.
In a horror movie, you expect people to do stupid things. That’s what leads to them being killed, which is the primary reason for them being in a horror film in the first place. People are, by and large, a stupid lot. And it’s not unreasonable to expect them to act even more stupidly in a life-or-death situation. But there’s a careful balance that must be struck in a film like this. It’s the balance between crafting sympathetic characters and creating annoying ones.
For the most part, it’s difficult to sympathize with the folks lining up as monster chow here. Our main man David is a heroic enough guy (brave, resourceful, handsome, occasionally shirtless). But he’s swimming against the tide. Virtually everyone else is determined to do something majorly idiotic leading to their own demise.
Apparently, a number of Christian groups are upset with this film over its portrayal of Christians. Honestly, it’s hard not to see what’s gotten them so rankled. Harden’s character makes Jerry Falwell look like a secular humanist. Her ranting, raving and Bible quoting borders on mean-spirited caricature. The character is also highly inconsistent, praying to Jesus for salvation one moment, spitting out foul-mouthed dialogue the next. In one scene she’s explaining the salvation of the Rapture, and in the next scene she’s plotting how to sacrifice children on an altar. Huh?
It could be argued that Darabont is trying to fashion a timely parable about fear and religious fundamentalism. But who is he kidding? This is a monster movie. Monster movies work far better when they keep their “messages” on the down-low. Is Godzilla a kick-ass giant monster movie or a subtle parable about the dangers of nuclear power? Actually, it’s both. But it’s mostly a kick-ass giant monster movie. Although there are some nasty jolts to be had in The Mist, it spends far less of its time on CGI monsters and far more on talky, “can’t we all just get along?” arguments.
With its emphasis on poor interpersonal relationships over putrid Lovecraftian gore, The Mist ends up more cynical than scary. But hey, if you’re frightened by the saccharine content of such crummy family movies as Fred Claus and Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium, at least The Mist gives you the occasional prospect of death-by-monster to look forward to.
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