Director Frank Darabont (“The Shawshank Redemption”) is rapidly becoming a King specialist, and maybe the filmmaker who’s best at adapting his material. He’s proven to have a good instinct at how loyal to stay to the source material, and where to make changes, so it should be no surprise that “The Mist” is extremely faithful to its source material, and likewise its ultimate strengths and weaknesses are mostly Kings.
Although it is certainly a monster story, it’s one that has its eye firmly on its characters and how they react to the terrifying circumstances they’ve been placed in as they find themselves trapped in a supermarket, unaware of (and with no control over) exactly what’s happening to them. In these kinds of circumstances, it’s no surprise that individuals’ best and worst impulses begin to come to the fore, and the real danger stops being what’s outside and becomes what’s inside.
In typical King fashion, however, even-handedness is not something to be bothered with, instead rounding out his characters with extremists (on one side or the other) from Andre Brauer’s obstinate, rationalist lawyer to Marcia Gay Harden’s religious zealot, Mrs. Carmody. And trapped in the middle is King’s stand-in, graphic artist David Drayton (Thomas Jane) and his son, just trying to make it through in one piece.
Darabont has picked his cast with care (including regulars Sadler and Jeffrey DeMunn) and it shows in the execution of the individual scenes, as the tension is gradually ratcheted up more and more.
Unfortunately, staying so close to the material means Darabont is stuck with the conceptual problems from the novella, which means it’s stuck with Mrs. Carmody. To call her a caricature would be a kindness to caricatures from almost her first appearance she is babbling about the end times and the wrath of God. It’s almost as if King and Darabont don’t have any faith in the inherently dramatic nature of the situation, and feel like they have to stack the deck, but it backfires. Carmody is supposed to increase the tension but the result is the complete opposite every time she opens her mouth the film comes to a screeching halt. She doesn’t really say anything interesting about human nature or religion, just engages in broad sweeping generalizations.
It’s the only real sour note in the film, but it’s such a large one it’s hard to get out from under. The rest of the film is a testament to craft. Rather than use effects and score to manipulate his audience in the direction he wants them to go, Darabont goes for a more natural approach, allowing moments to play out as if they were really happening without a lot of sturm and drang. The creature effects are generally excellent throughout as well, particularly the tentacle in the initial attack.
“The Mist” has a lot of the elements to be one of the great horror films, but it never quite puts it all together. It’s still very good, but a few missteps, in particular the horribly conceived character of Mrs. Carmody, keep it from ever being more than that.