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The Mist (2007)
Director: Frank Darabont
review by Octavio Ramos Jr
Spoiler alert!There's little doubt director Frank Darabont has a knack for adapting material written by Stephen King. Darabont's adaptations of The Shawshank Redemption and The Green Mile were effective; perhaps because Darabont kept intact the elements that make Stephen King's stories appeal to many. The same is true in Darabont's first foray into King's horror fiction, and for the most part The Mist movie is a very close adaptation of the novella. However, in an attempt to rework the ending Darabont fails, in my opinion, because his attempt at irony is both crude and has little payoff, despite what most critics have stated in the myriad reviews out there.
For the most part, this movie reeks of Stephen King, and as a result the film is captivating, entertaining, and exciting to watch. With little deviation, the film follows the novella quite well, with Darabont actually improving some of King's missteps in the novella. Thomas Jane (The Punisher and Dreamcatcher) is David Drayton; a commercial artist who finds himself trapped in a grocery store with his five-year-old son Billy (Nathan Gamble), and a cross section of typical King characters. Among these are: Amanda Dumfries (Laurie Holden of Silent Hill and The X-Files), a young schoolteacher who has faith in humanity; Brent Norton (Andre Braugher of Homicide: Life On The Street, and the remake of Salem's Lot), a successful attorney and sceptic who forms what King calls in his novella the 'Flat-Earthers,' a group sceptical of what Norton calls "monsters from planet X"; Ollie Weeks (Toby Jones of Finding Neverland), the store's assistant manager and a nebbish who also happens to be a crack shot; and Mrs Carmody (Marcia Gay Harden of Mystic River and Pollock, both of which garnered her Academy awards), a religious fanatic who gains a cult as a result of her constant oratory.
The plotline is straightforward. These and other characters are trapped inside a grocery store as a thick mist envelops the town of Bridgton, Maine. There are things in the mist, namely giant insects, prehistoric-looking birds culled out of Lovecraft (reminded me of the creatures in the short story The Festival), and tentacle-laden abominations. The core of the plot resides on the now clichéd storyline of Night Of The Living Dead, where a group of survivors must decide on staying inside a perceived zone of safety or venturing into the unknown for an even safer haven.
The character of Harry Cooper in Romero's film falls onto that of Mrs Carmody in The Mist. A zealot who, through circumstance, comes to believe she has psychic powers granted by God, Carmody begins to influence the panicked and confined populace, both residents and out-of-towners. Also making things difficult are Norton and his band of followers, all of whom believe that there is no supernatural danger.
The story unravels quickly and effectively, with Norton and his group the first to test their theory by venturing into the mist. When they do not return, the standoff between Carmody and her followers and David and his followers leads to a bloody end, which in turn leads to the egress of David and his followers into the mist and beyond.
As stated earlier, Darabont is excellent in adapting the novella, which originally appeared in the anthology Dark Forces and later in King's collection Skeleton Crew. Darabont bolsters the narrative slightly, and for the most part his alterations are well- conceived and -intentioned. For example, King's story has David Drayton and Amanda Dumfries make love, which comes out of nowhere and in truth created confusion in me when I read it, as it added little to the story and made David's love for his wife - and his steadfast dedication to rescue her, once out of the store - a bit hypocritical. To avoid such confusion, Darabont moves the love interest between one of the soldiers and a cashier, two relatively minor characters that exhibit charisma. In the book, David and a small band go to the pharmacy to get medicine for a woman who has broken her leg. This is a thin reason, as a broken leg would only need to be set. In the film, the reason given is that one of the characters has been severely burned - that, to me, was a much more compelling reason to risk a trip to the pharmacy, even if it was only next-door.
Another modification is that of the 'Arrowhead Project', which is hinted at in the novella but never substantiated. In the movie, the Arrowhead Project is responsible for the mist, and it is here that Darabont begins his downfall, in my opinion. It is this flaw that helps flesh out the film's conclusion, one of the most gut wrenching I have seen in a very, very long time.
The film ends with David, his son, Amanda Dumfries, Hilda Reppler (an elderly schoolteacher who dispatches giant spiders with the help of bug spray and a lighter), and Dan Miller (who is one of the first to encounter the creatures in the mist) escaping the grocery store and managing to climb into David's Land Rover. They drive as far as the vehicle's gas allows. Once the vehicle stops, David brings out a revolver and four rounds. After some discussion and agreement, he kills all four people, including his son. He then ventures into the mist, expecting to be devoured, only to find that the military is successfully destroying the creatures with tanks and flamethrowers. How ironic (not!).
Now, Darabont is not really the source of this ending, as a hint of it is given in King's novella, where David contemplates sacrificial suicide but dismisses it. The real irony is King's narrative toward the end of the novella, part of which states that ending the story with the military assuming control would be trite and a cheat. (Read the novella - the paragraph is close to the end of the story). In the book, David and a small band of survivors continue to move forward, and although there is hope, it is minute. What is important, however, is the human spirit exhibited in the novella - human spirit to fight and adapt no matter what. Indeed, King hints about going to a gun store for more weapons and to a gas station to get more gas for the vehicle. I was expecting similar things in the movie, but instead we get suicide. To me, this reeked of a copout.
Furthermore, I find it almost impossible to believe that a father would ever be able to kill his son, no matter what the circumstances. Having lost a son to the reaper myself, I found this act deplorable and disgusting. I feel that Darabont has not lost anyone close, and if he has, his heart must be made of stone.
Despite the ending, The Mist is one of the best horror films I have seen in quite some time. The creatures, designed by master-illustrator Berni Wrighton and brought to life by KNB FX, are startling. There's little use of CGI, with the effects artists relying on old-fashioned techniques (models and stop-motion animation), and thus the interactions are all the more horrifying. The pharmacy sequence is one of the most chilling, with small and giant spider creatures darting in and out of the mist at will.
Moreover, the actors really bring their characters to life, with Thomas Jane's dry and understated style speaking well for the character of David Drayton, and Marcia Gay Harden turning in a tour de force performance that for me never went over the top. (How many caught the homage to The Stand's Trashcan Man with the line, "My life for you!") As always, Andre Braugher crafts a mesmerising performance, his Norton as stubborn as the character in King's novella but also more fleshed out and real in the film.
Given the effectiveness of most of The Mist, I hope that Darabont continues to adapt more Stephen King yarns. However, I would hope that Darabont avoids making major modifications to King's fiction, as he has shown here that such major modifications are clumsy and, for many, ruined much of entertainment value found in the bulk of The Mist.
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