Review – The Mist

Originally Posted at Aint It Cool News 11/27/07

Frank Darabont is an angry man. He doesn’t like kids, he doesn’t like people, he doesn’t like religion, he doesn’t like logic, he doesn’t like Thanksgiving, and the only thing he likes is Stephen King, and he likes using Stephen King like a blunt instrument, to find whatever sentimentality is inside of you and snuff it out. Mercilessly.

This doesn’t sound like Frank Darabont. The man responsible for adapting “Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption” and improving on it. The man responsible for adapting “The Green Mile,” and improving on it. The man responsible for “The Majestic,” a schmaltzy, sopping slobbery french kiss to the movies, slathered in lipstick made of nostalgia and cornpone.

But you need to think of the Frank Darabont that concieved of pulling a kids tendons out of his body, and having a burned-alive, supernatural child molester use them as marionette strings to fling the kid off a building. That Frank Darabont was so burnt-out and twisted inside that he wrote “Nightmare on Elm Street 3” and had the gall to make Freddy adorable. It’s his characterization of the horror icon that is lodged in the public consciousness, even moreso than Craven’s own. That Frank Darabont would lovingly extract the shining hope you felt as Andy Dufresne threw his hands to the sky, and he would shit on it. And then punch you in the balls with your shitty hope clenched and dripping in his closed fist. That Frank Darabont has made a film that would make that Freddy Krueger wince at how bleakly powerful it is.

“The Mist” was concieved by Stephen King as his take on B-movies of the 50’s and 60’s. He was inspired after watching the similarly unforgiving and mean-spirited “Night of the Living Dead,” A movie that used the undead to reflect back all the worst elements of humankind at the tail end of the 60’s. King crafted a siege story filled with Lovecraftian horrors. He set it in a supermarket and stood logic on one side, reason on the other, and filthy, tentacled horror from planet X outside, in an ever-present gray mist, with an everyman looking out for his young boy, and a power-hungry witch opposite him.

Darabont has, as he did with “Shawshank,” improved King’s story. There are no unnecessary side-trips into love-story land, no spare sentimentality to sweeten the pot. Darabont has taken a serrated edge to King’s already small novella, and cleaved every ounce of fat off it.

Characters are set up perfectly with the barest of brush strokes, but never left wanting. David Drayton’s inherent goodness, Mrs. Carmody’s barely restrained rage and egomania, Ollie Weeks’ sturdy dependability, and Amanda Dumfries naivete are all highlighted and the actors  make sure there are three dimensions there. There isn’t really a bad performance in the film, not a character that doesn’t feel wholly real, and for a movie as economic with its time as this one is, that’s truly remarkable. For being an adaptation of a novella that is essentially an adaptation of an entire genre of film–and schlock film, at that— the actors do sell that these are real people.

It makes the fantastical tangle of blood, tentacles, teeth and legs going on outside all that more disconcerting. Roger Ebert once wrote in his review of “ALIENS” that he didn’t necessarily like the movie, but gave it 3 1/2 stars simply because once he left it, he was shaking, and the sick, knotted feeling the movie gave him wouldn’t leave for roughly a month and a half. I fear for Roger if he ever gets his eyes on this movie.

That’s not to say the movie is flawless: The beasties are well designed and off-putting in all the best ways. You wince not because it’s just ugly or weird, you wince because your mind rebels against accepting that something that fundamentally wrong could exist. But Darabont, inspired by Danny Boyle’s “28 Days Later,” went out and got the crew of FX network’s “The Shield” and set to make a fast, dirty, mean little movie, and that means there was not much money for the visual effects. When the story mandates a shot of Cthulhu on Four Legs, this means that at some point, unreality of the less desirable kind is going to show up onscreen. The moments they do are brief, and are not wholly BAD, mostly on a level with Peter Jackson’s Spider Pit sequence from “King Kong,” but every now and again the work on the beasties detracts from the suspense.

Luckily, the speed of the film makes such visual missteps tiny. It didn’t even occur to me until late in the film that there was pretty much no score to speak of. For a man who relied on Thomas Newman to lift “Shawshank,” I would have never guessed he could use silence just as deftly as he used strings. The reason I noticed the absence of music came when he finally did bring in the music– a cliche’d blast of Hyperdramatic Bombast at just the wrong moment. It doesn’t sink the film, but people who haven’t bought in to the bitter, acidic meal Darabont is serving will likely snicker under their breath and wonder why Leonidas doesn’t just stride out of the mist and shout the tentacles and spikes off the beasties.

And Darabont’s ruthlessness might also shut people out of the film before they ever get to the ending. There are horrible, grisly deaths in this movie. There is suffering and screaming, and none of it is pretty or quick or stylized. It is clumsy and desperate, unblinking and open-mouthed. Darabont adds to King’s story, gives it a sour theme and gets it drunk on indignant cynicism in the face of  faith.

And In the final minutes of the film, where the most horrific events of the movie take place, they involve not a single tentacled, spiked, bloodsucking insectoid freak. Audience members who came this far in the narrative looking for any sort of redemption or ray of hope to cut through the gray?  Darabont goes the other way. Way the other way.

He declares his intentions to do so right up front, if you know what you’re looking for: David Drayton paints movie posters for a living, like Drew Struzan. Bright, watercolored pieces of beauty, in homage to cinema, drying on canvas. And Darabont lets you look at them for 5 or 6 seconds. And then with no real warning, and no bombast, he smashes a tree into them, through a window.

And then he cuts to black.

Published in: on 12/31/2010 at 1:04 am  Comments Off on Review – The Mist  
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