(3.5 out of 5 stars)
Stephen King film adaptations are typically the worst. The recent “1408” and 2003’s “Dreamcatcher” are so bad they would make anyone swear off seeing another King film. But not all King adaptations are bad, as director Frank Darabont — the same director who successfully adapted King’s “The Shawshank Redemption” and “The Green Mile” — proves with “The Mist.” Not only does Darabont do a King story right, but the film is enjoyable on its own merits.
After a freak electrical storm knocks out the power in a small Maine town, artist David Drayton (Thomas Jayne) takes his son to buy supplies to get his family through the blackout. While he’s at a grocery store, a thick mist rolls into town. As the mist settles people come running into the store, screaming that something is in it. They discover strange monsters hiding in the mist and they must stay inside, hoping somehow to survive. Unfortunately, the monsters are not their only worries, as they’re locked up with local crazy Mrs. Carmody (Marcia Gay Harden), who proclaims this as the end of days and splits the group into two sides.
If “Mist” does anything, it shows that Darabont and no one else should be allowed to adapt King’s stories. This wasn’t thrown together haphazardly, nor did it rely on star-power to get people into theaters. The cinematography is excellent, making you feel like you’re part of the action without using the cliché shaky camera. You feel trapped in this small store, making for one intense, immersive experience. Sadly, the special effects aren’t all that good, but I think it was purposely done poorly to give the film a ’60s sci-fi feeling. Still, when you’re accustomed to flawless effects, seeing fake-looking monsters takes you out of the moment.
The story is surprisingly well-crafted, especially for something King wrote. I’m not his biggest fan, but after seeing “Mist” I might pick up a copy of the novella. “Mist” reminds viewers that most of the time the scariest monsters are not the boogeyman hiding in the dark, but humans themselves. It’s certainly not a new story but it’s a perfect allegory because it can be set anywhere in any generation. Don’t be surprised if, on your way out of the theater, you find yourself watching your fellow moviegoers out of the corner of your eye.
What makes it seem so terrifying is that the events unfold in a very realistic manner. It’s interesting to watch a group of frightened people break apart into smaller groups, only to start fighting amongst each other. And the characters, the strongest aspect of the film, are handled so well that viewers will find themselves choosing sides in an unnecessary battle. Drayton is the levelheaded leader of the group who’s only trying to protect his son while Mrs. Carmody will have you squirming in your seat as she preaches fire and brimstone from the Book of Revelations. And dorky, mild-mannered grocery bagger Ollie (Toby Jones) winds up a badass who gives you plenty of reasons to cheer.
There are a couple areas that could have used a little more polish. Both the acting and dialogue feel stiff for the first two-thirds of the film. I would love to say it’s completely forgivable, especially after seeing the recent garbage the horror genre has offered, but I can’t give this a pass just because “Saw IV” and “P2” were atrocious. The acting doesn’t kill the film, but sometimes characters don’t seem genuine. The script isn’t horrendous, but there are cliché lines scattered throughout. Again, a little more effort and these issues wouldn’t have been a problem.
“Mist” is a solid film, definitely worth a viewing and is the best King adaptation in years. I would have scored it higher, but “Mist” won’t hold up well on repeated viewings, since most of the tension and suspense come from not knowing what is around the corner. But that first viewing will certainly be one intense, albeit bumpy, ride.