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The Mist

Review Written by: Jack Gattanella
Film: A-

Directed by: Frank Darabont
Written by: Frank Darabont
Based on the short story by: Stephen King
Produced by: Frank Darabont and Liz Glotzer
Starring: Thomas Jane, Marcia Gay Harden, Laurie Holden, Andre Baugher, Toby Jones, William Sadler, Chris Owen, Sam Witwer
Studio: Dimension Films

The Mist is one of the bleakest horror films to come out of Hollywood in many a moon, but with some points that can be taken. This isn't trash or torture-porn, but an expertly crafted piece of sci-fi/horror fiction that can only come from someone as bravely demented as Stephen King (or rather from what appears to be a bravely demented creativity that, of course, knows no bounds). But if you asked me who directed it had I not known Frank Darabont had, I wouldn't be able to say: this is far from the classically-stylized form of The Shawshank Redemption and The Green Mile and instead resembles what is like a sci-fi channel movie of the week, only much better written and acted. In fact, it's more comparable to the most succinct and terrifying that 1950s sci-fi movies offered, where creepy (and I do mean creepy and gross) monsters and huge insects and things crawl all over and in the darkest places, but it's the human beings and how they react- and how society is reflected ten-fold in the reaction- that counts.

Truth be told, the actual plastics of the film are well-done; the monsters themselves, which are explained only for a moment as a throwaway by a frightened soldier who says this mist and the creatures that come from it are from another dimension and there's some sort of portal or other, are delightfully nasty. They're the kind of huge critters that might have had room in King Kong had Peter Jackson had even more time, with the form of an insect or a huge squid or a gigantic crab, can make the audience jump and laugh and yell at the screen. Plus there's the mist itself, which holds a kind of "big-other" quality, as is described by philosophers as this other entity that human beings just can't really completely grasp, even when it's staring them right in their faces (not quite as direct as in Boyle's Sunshine with the sun, but close enough) and if one wanted to read into it enough it's a kind of crafty, ingenious metaphor from King on the nature of fear, of terror completely unbound in the unknown, or the little that is known which when confronted (i.e. when they go out to the pharmacy) is about as startling as anything imaginable.

But on the side of substance, this is also a winner, maybe even more-so. There's not much doubt in my mind that Darabont, for all of his faithfulness to the original King text, enriched the material for present times with a classic example of rationalism vs. irrationalism. The premise is this: an out-of-towner (Thomas Jane) is in a small sea-side Maine town when after a heavy storm a mist starts to crawl over the town and as he goes to the supermarket to get supplies, with practically everyone else in town getting things, the mist comes completely over, a man runs out "there's something in the mist!" he says and the door slams shut. From there-on there's a struggle on the fronts of, simply, what to do: Jane just wants to know what they're up against, how to get to the cars, how to get the hell out; Andre Braugher's character, a lawyer, might be the most rational, thinks it's poppycock that anything is out there even after the encounter some of the men have with the tentacled creature at the loading dock; and Marcia Gay Harden, in one of the great examples of playing a one-note character so right, is a hardcore bible-thumper who riles up those inside of the supermarket to realize that the end of the world is coming ala Revelations and that she- following not getting killed while standing still by one of the alien-bugs- is the wrath of God. It's the first time in a while have I seen an audience yell and cringe and laugh at how each major character meets their fate, no matter what the approach.

If it isn't quite Night of the Living Dead classic-status, it might be expected- hence the comparison to sci-fi channel movie-of-the-week status, in small part. It is clichéd with certain characters, archetypes, lots of hand-held camera-work and a melodramatic musical accompaniment. But it's worth seeing on the big screen, if only for the audience-participation sake and to take in all of that potent terror that is realized from the fronts of effective creature-feature and socio-political drama. And the ending, to be sure, save for Jane's over-the-top reaction, is bewildering and I mean that as a compliment.

The cast of Frank Darabont's The Mist.
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