Stephen King’s novella, “The Mist”, still stands as one of my favorite works by the author who has given the world more chills and sleepless nights than the flu. The short story combined the visceral horror of King’s most effective tales with the simplicity and charm of a 50’s science fiction farce, making for, what I like to consider, the literary equivalent of a b-movie gorefest. There have been talks about a cinematic version of The Mist for almost as long as the story’s been around, but it finally made it to the screen courtesy of Frank Darabont – arguably the most successful translator of King’s writing to film (at least in terms of quality). Known for his excellent adaptations of “The Green Mile” and “The Shawshank Redemption” – dramas by King’s standards – The Mist marks Darabont’s first stab at one of the master’s horror stories.
Thomas Jane returns to King territory (he was in the underrated “Dreamcatcher”) as David Drayton, a movie poster artist who lives in small Maine town that was victim to a severe storm. David and his son, Billy (Nathan Gamble) drive into town with their surly neighbor, Brent (Andre Braugher) for supplies, but soon find themselves trapped inside of the local supermarket (along with a couple of dozen other customers) by a mysterious mist. At first, the trapped citizens fear it is a sort of toxic cloud carried over from the nearby military base, but soon those fears are quashed by the physical manifestation of creatures living within the mist – creatures certainly not of this Earth. Matters are made worse by the pious and unbalanced Mrs. Carmody (Marcia Gay Harden), whose religious zealotry is slowly winning over many of those trapped in the store, leading to in-fighting and, ultimately, bloodshed, in the face of what she considers the wrath of an angry God. Mrs. Carmody convinces her flock that they must stay in the store, weather God’s punishment, and, if necessary, pay their penance in the blood of the sinners amongst them. David, however, knows that his salvation lies beyond the fragile plate glass windows of the market, out there, somewhere beyond the mist.
Filled with guts and gore and fantastical creatures straight out of King’s twisted imagination, it boggles the mind how The Mist could turn out to be such a joyless affair. The most refreshing thing about King’s original story was how fun, goofy, and unapologetically violent it was; you got the feeling that the author’s tongue was firmly in cheek whilst writing the story, giggling to himself as he recalled those goofy 50’s flicks that inspired him to become a writer in the first place. Darabont, however, doesn’t seem to take such pleasure – guilty or otherwise – with the material, making for a bleak, claustrophobic, and thorough downer of a film. This sort of approach is fine when you’re dealing with real world horror, but we’re talking about bug-like beasties from another dimension suddenly popping into a Maine town. Even when characters are dispatched by things as incredible as giant tentacles and stinging insects the size of lawnmowers the action is handled with the a heavy dose of grim realism that runs all the way through to the film’s jaw-droppingly dour climax. Darabont does deliver a healthy dose of jolts and over-the-top violence, and the performances by Jane, Braugher, Harden, and Laurie Holden (who plays recently arrived elementary school teacher, Amanda) are solid, making for a technically proficient and very classy horror film, but that’s precisely the problem I had with The Mist – it’s too classy for its own good, as if Darabont was somehow trying to make a film that transcended the genre rather than simply embrace the source material for what it was.
The 2-disc collector’s edition DVD from the folks at Genius is absolutely loaded with fantastic supplemental material, including a feature-length commentary by Darabont, deleted scenes (with optional commentary), several featurettes (including a fascinating look at real-life poster artist Drew Struzan), and loads more. The second disc even sports the entire film in black and white, as this version is meant to represent Darabont’s “vision” of The Mist as a fifties-style black and white monster movie, which is how he says he envisioned it all along. The funny thing is, watching The Mist in black and white actually does make it feel like a different film, and certainly more fitting of King’s novella.
While I didn’t love The Mist in the way that I’d hoped I would, I will say that the film is very well made, scary, and actually quite disturbing at times, with loads of blood and guts, slimy tentacles, and creepy crawly beasts making it into this adaptation. Sadly, though, much of the author’s slyly sardonic sense of humor and the unbridled joy he takes in scaring us is lost in the translation.