Saturday, March 31, 2012

Pissed at The Mist (2007)



Good monster movies are hard to come by, let alone good monster movies that were released in theaters. In the case of The Mist, the 2007 adaptation of a Stephen King novella that was released in theaters nationwide, we get a monster movie that is well made and has a lot of potential. The central premise about an invasion from another dimension is intriguing, the cast is solid, and the scriptwriting and direction by King adaptation vet Frank Darabont keeps the plot moving at a steady pace. Unfortunately, the story itself never comes together, largely because it’s nothing more than an assemblage of familiar King character types and situations taken from other, better monster movies. Read on for my complete review.

The Mist is about a group of people who are trapped in a supermarket by a mysterious mist that appears to consume anyone who dares to venture into it. As the monstrous inhabitants of the mist slowly reveal themselves through a series of brief encounters both inside and outside of the supermarket, tensions violently escalate between rival factions of the human survivors.

The best part about The Mist is its large menagerie of monsters, both great and small. Their appearances are infrequent, but these creatures handily steal the show from the human characters. If you love movie monsters such as big bugs or dinosaurs--or even bug-like dinosaurs or dinosaur-like bugs--then you might want to give this film a chance just to see what these beasts look like. (In fact, while I was watching The Mist, I kept wondering what this film would've looked like if it were shot in the 50s and classic creature creator Ray Harryhausen had been tasked with doing the monster designs and effects.)


That said, the greatest strength of The Mist is also its biggest drawback. For as deadly and fearsome as the monsters are, they only attack whenever the script requires them to attack and only retreat whenever the script requires them to retreat. They are extremely capable of tearing the supermarket asunder and feasting on all of the people trapped within yet they never do, and it’s never made clear what attracts them and what repels them. Likewise, the mist that enshrouds the creatures is only as thick as the script needs it to be. Some people get lost in the mist and quickly become monster chow, while other people are capable of driving through the mist without colliding with other obstacles or getting stepped on by one of the larger creatures. Such inconsistencies drain the suspense out of the narrative, and I couldn't escape the nagging feeling that I've seen all of this done before and better elsewhere in Aliens, The Birds, Jurassic Park, Cloverfield, and George Romero's zombie movies. Given that the creatures' designs are much more inspired than the situations in which they are placed, they probably would’ve been better utilized in a survival horror video game based on The Mist instead of a direct adaption of the original story.

I've never been a Stephen King fan but I’m familiar enough with his work to recognize the character types that he frequently uses. Many of them are here in The Mist: the reluctant, brave and bland male hero; the outspoken yet ultimately doomed skeptic; the witty and well-spoken elderly sage; the sleazy and self-righteous antagonist; and the easily duped denizens of small town America who fall under the sway of the antagonist. These character types can be found in other horror stories but with King they usually follow the same dramatic trajectories, which makes the interpersonal conflicts inside of the supermarket feel contrived and they do not correspond with the external threats that lurk in the mist. By relying on formulaic character types and conflicts, King--and by extension Darabont--chose to play it safe in an otherwise apocalyptic scenario, and the story that begins with such promise ultimately sputters its way to the end. The film’s final few minutes tries to muster up one last, shocking twist, but the scenes immediately leading up the end are so bereft of momentum that it feels empty and undeserved.


I can only recommend The Mist to die-hard King fans, although some of them might think that this movie is just an abbreviated version of The Stand. Monster movie fans are better off with superior titles such as Alien Raiders, Infestation and Splinter, each of which I wrote about in a previous post here.




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