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MIST, THE(director/writer: Frank Darabont; screenwriter: based on a novella by Stephen King; cinematographer: Rohn Schmidt; editor: Hunter M. Via; music: Mark Isham; cast: Thomas Jane (David Drayton), Marcia Gay Harden (Mrs. Carmody), Andre Braugher (Norton), Laurie Holden (Amanda), Toby Jones (Ollie), Jeffrey DeMunn (Dan Miller), Frances Sternhagen (Irene), Nathan Gamble (Billy Drayton), William Sadler (Jim), Alexa Davalos (Sally), Sam Witwer (Jessup), David Jensen (Myron), Robert C. Treveiler (Bud Brown), Chris Owen (Norm), Kelly Collins Lintz (Stephanie Drayton); Runtime: 127; MPAA Rating: R; producers: Mr. Darabont/Liz Glotzer; MGM and Dimension Films; 2007)
Too transfixed into a mist of its own making to be either enjoyable or sensible.

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Frank Darabont (“The Shawshank Redemption”/”The Green Mile”/”The Majestic”) teams up once again with horror maven author Stephen King for this bleak tale originally published in King’s 1985 horror anthology Skeleton Crew. It concerns a small Maine town, Castle Rock, engulfed by an inexplicable deadly mist. The story reminds one of those Twilight Zone episodes that Rod Serling used to churn out regularly on TV with sharp and taut scripts that were eerie and mysterious. The pretentious Darabont fails to make it meaningful or humorous. He fails because despite competently getting the quota of genre scares required, he stretches this straightforward story out into over two hours in length when there’s only enough material for about an hour and allows this hokum material to be taken far too seriously. He mistakenly thinks he has something important to say, as he attempts to set up both an apocalyptic battle between killer prehistoric monsters and the usual divide over religious beliefs that separates us humans. But he gets bogged down in letting the spectacle of his monster octopi on the loose with his tentacles latching onto people for no reason and doing terrible gross-out things give way to the dullish story involving the stressed-out, self-righteous and uptight people taking time out from fighting the monsters to carry out a rasping debate amongst themselves if the human race is worth saving. It covers King’s usual horror story themes of civilization on the brink of collapsing, mass hysteria and how unprepared humanity is for colossal emergencies (think Katrina!), but does itself an injustice with too much speechifying and too little time spent with monsters snacking on the customers of a supermarket (a beautiful ironical setup, that is almost completely wasted by taking the film in the wrong direction).

The film opens to a freak electrical storm that causes a giant tree that commercial movie-poster artist David Drayton’s (Thomas Jane) grandfather planted crash into his studio, in his lakeside house, and destroy his work projects. Another downed tree destroys his boathouse. The tree belongs to an unfriendly and uncooperative new neighbor, a high-powered pompous black lawyer from NYC, Brent Norton (Andre Braugher), an outsider who comes up for weekends and has a chip on his shoulder. Since Norton’s luxury car was crushed by another tree, David in a peace gesture drives the windbag lawyer into town for supplies and also takes his 9-year-old son, Billy (Nathan Gamble), along while leaving his wife home to clean up the mess. While in the supermarket, a mist rolls in and everyone is trapped in the store when a bloodied local resident, Dan Miller (Jeffrey DeMunn), runs into the store and relates how he was attacked by something in the mist. When a foolish macho braggart teenager (Chris Owen) goes outside to unplug the generator, he’s attacked by the tentacle monster and savagely killed. Suspicion turns to the secretive Army base located on the outskirts of town, and it’s learned from soldiers trapped in the store about the classified “Arrowhead Project.” It seems army scientists unleashed a monster when experimenting into outer space to find a window to another world. With no power and the shoppers unable to get to their cars to escape because of the mist, they become confused and divide up into different camps: the arrogant lawyer believes there’s a reasonable explanation and refuses to stay put in the store as the sensible folks suggest, Mrs. Carmody (Marcia Gay Harden) is an annoying religious fanatic using the Old Testament to say this is judgment day–the end of the world–because we failed to obey God, and an ignorant redneck in his work uniform named Jim (William Sadler) is all over the map on what he believes but always manages to take the most ignorant position. Our sensible hero David leads the best of the shoppers in trying to survive this doomsday scenario, that includes the quiet but heroic assistant store manager Ollie (Toby Jones), the practical-minded new local school teacher Amanda (Laurie Holden) and the old reliable feisty retired school teacher Irene (Frances Sternhagen).

So much of the film turns as sour as Mrs. Carmody’s constant one-note shrill preaching over the End of the World. She hangs around long enough to get a following and stir up all sorts of unimaginable trouble, as her chatty evil character supposedly could be related to almost anything you see wrong with the modern world. What’s just as bad as listening to Carmody rattling on to her faith-based converts, is that Darabont takes us even a step further than King does into the darkness and ends it on a distasteful note that is meant to be shocking and then implies that the only savior from the nightmare of the monster mist is the same Army that unleashed the monster. Whatever scares were brought about by the enigma of the mist dissipated into heavy-handed contrivances. The all too familiar panicky and cowardly mob scenes soon became tiresome and Darabont’s needless messages seem ill-advised. This is a movie that begs just to be taken for the usual paranoid 1950s like B-film sci-fiers and to have a blast over people taking on monsters, but unfortunately becomes too transfixed into a mist of its own making to be either enjoyable or sensible.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”