Stephen King’s The Mist

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Opening in theaters on Nov. 22nd

Cast:

Thomas Jane as David Drayton

Nathan Gamble as Billy Drayton

Laurie Holden as Amanda Dumfries

Andre Brauer as Brent Norton

Marcia Gay Harden as Mrs. Carmody

Toby Jones as Ollie

Alexa Davalos as Sally

David Jensen as Myron Lafleur

William Sadler as Jim Grondin

Jack Hurst as Joe Eagleton

Chris Owen as Norm

Frances Sternhagen as Irene

Sam Witwer as Wayne Jessup

Directed by Frank Darabont

Review:

Beware, “The Mist” is a film that’s as dangerous they come. A thought-provoking ticking time bomb of dread transcendent of its b-movie inspired beginnings. Stephen King adaptation wunderkind Frank Darabont has created a horror film for the ages; dramatically potent as “The Shawshank Redemption” and as terrifying as “The Shining.” It’s a poignant parable for our times and an unsettling exploration of the human condition. And what a strange beast it is, too – a mainstream audience monster movie with actually enough fodder to rouse you, shock you, moreover, challenge you the way good horror films used to and should do.

Darabont has spent years harboring an interest in adapting King’s novella, a restless ode to creature features and “The Outer Limits” originating in the author’s “Skeleton Crew” collection. The material was turned into a ZBS Foundation-produced audio drama utilizing 3-D sound and a full cast including actor William Sadler who coincidentally co-stars in this new incarnation of “The Mist.” In the audio rendition he was leading man David Drayton, a role now embodied by former “Punisher” Thomas Jane.

Drayton is a family man and successful artist living in a quiet Maine haven. In a not-so-subtle tip ‘o the hat to show where Darabont’s heart is at, Drayton’s gallery is bedecked in familiar movie poster art like John Carpenter’s “The Thing,” a nonconformist slice of cinema “The Mist” is analogous to in tone. One evening, a violent storm forces David, his son and wife into the basement. Come morning, they discover the damage inflicted on their home (a tree makes quick work of David’s studio and boat house) is felt town-wide, so, David, with son and neighbor, Brent Norton (Andre Brauer of TNT’s “Salem’s Lot”), in tow, head to the grocery store for supplies and food.

They’re stay is unexpectedly extended following the arrival of a bleeding and terrified townie (played by Jeffrey DeMunn – last seen in King’s “Storm of the Century”); he becomes a herald of the titular heavy mist which quickly blankets the area. Trapped within, David and the other residents try to make sense of what’s happening among attacks from the Lovecraftian beasties attempting to get into the store. But even more perilous than these creatures is the paranoia and fear sweeping through the group of survivors. Thanks to the bible-thumping Mrs. Carmody, factions are created between those who theorize what’s occurring is an act of God – one that demands bloodshed to appease “the unknown” waiting in the mist – and the more rational-thinking: David, his son, a sharp-shooting grocery store clerk, a teacher and Irene (Francis Sternhagen who has two previous King efforts under her belt: “Misery” and “The Golden Years”), to name a few. Tensions mount and desperation kicks in leaving the latter group to seek means to escape before more innocents – namely David’s son – are killed in cold blood.

In Darabont fashion, drama and character preside over all else, the greatest gift “The Mist” has to offer any horror fan grasping for relevant connection And lucky for us, Darabont continues to channel King’s voice, emotional colors and tempo where so many have tried and failed before. He pulls a helluva performance out of Jane (perhaps his best turn yet) but David Drayton, on a personality scale though, isn’t granted nearly enough material as, say, Ollie Weeks – Toby Jones’ aforementioned store clerk who wins you over immediately. Still, everyone is pitch-perfect, from Marcia Gay Harden’s Oscar nom-worthy Carmody to even Laurie Holden (“Silent Hill”), here delivering a reserved turn as a new gal in town. Sadler has the “Maine hick” down pat and delivers a convincing twist when his character chooses sides.

This ensemble brings a truth to the material and all players do an excellent job in representing level-headed reason collapsing beneath the weight of understandable confusion. (Somehow, in some way, Darabont and his capable acting troupe elicit a consistent reaction within you that demands vocalization. I caught myself several times muttering an “Oh, crap,” or “Crazy bitch,” as the drama escalated.) Working hand-in-hand with the performances, “The Mist” also employs a vérité style – via Ronn Schmidt’s cinematography and Bill Gierhart’s steadicam work – to deepen the audience’s involvement. The crash zooms are unobtrusive and there’s still a fair amount of fluidity to the execution.

A good deal of the film is sans music, the only reason I can think of why is to reinforce the film’s sense of realism. I think it’s a brave decision and one that wholly works. Roughly, the first fifteen minutes carry not a lick of score so when Mark Isham’s brooding pieces do start to creep in, they’re too noticeable for my tastes and I would have preferred it if Darabont took “The Birds” route and delivered a soundtrack-less experience.

On the “monster” side of things (let’s get right down to the important shit, right?), all is where it needs to be. Mysterious and savage in just the right doses. Through the famous tentacle and winged creatures attack, Darabont shows us just what we need to see to make the KNB EFX and Cafe FX-created beasts (I get a Zanti Misfit vibe from the spiders every time) credible. The blending of practical and CG is handsomely accomplished during the Ray Harryhausen-esque tussles between man and thing. You can’t ask for more than a sense of awe in a creature feature and “The Mist” certainly delivers near the finale. Speaking of which…

I’d love to go out with no comment on the extended ending Darabont has conceived – this film is painstakingly painful until the novella’s dismal end, mind you – however, it plays such an integral part in my overwhelming feeling about the film, I can’t help but say a word or two about it. No doubt it’ll draw some dissent. It’s an apropos, breathtaking coda for an already cruel dissertation on the unpredictable nature of life. Darabont’s nihilistic choice is a courageous sucker punch to the throat; it’s also one of the most hopeless conclusions I’ve seen in recent memory (“The Descent’s UK finale falls next in line). And, to be honest, again, it extracted a physical reaction from me whether I wanted to give it one or not. Except this time I wasn’t speaking out – my hands were clasped tight around my mouth, heart racing. Goddammit, I had the jitters and it has been a long time since a movie really did a number on me. This is a film that will haunt you long after it’s over.

Darabont and King continue to make a formidable team. They’ve created something bleak, and as I’ve said countless times, that’s how I like my horror. I remember reading the novella for the first and sketching the monsters that were in my head after that experience (Norm, the unfortunate bag boy being carried away by the tentacles and all). Later, my synapses would fire away during long road trips where I’d hunker down, throw on a pair of headphones and listen to that “Mist” audio incarnation over and over. I’m happy to say, many years later, “The Mist” was worth the wait. It’s everything this King fan had ever dreamt of seeing and then some.