Wednesday, December 12, 2007

The Mist

If nothing else this year showed that we are nearing the end of days, the fact that there have now been two quality Stephen King films in one year should clinch it for just about everyone. It’s a bit of a toss-up as to whether this or 1408 was better (I’m leaning more toward 1408 at the moment), but when something approaching 90% of his filmic adaptations have met with failure, the fact that either would be actual good movies, let alone both, is mildly astonishing.

This one shouldn’t be too much of a surprise, though, given its director. Frank Darabont has previously directed two other Stephen King films with The Shawshank Redemption and The Green Mile, which are easily King’s two best films. This is his fourth film (fifth if you count a TV movie he made, but really, who counts them?), and at two hours long it’s both his shortest and his weakest. Without his normal lengthy running time to slowly develop everyone, he instead leaves almost everyone as a stock character, there to behave in their stereotypical manner in service of the plot. This is partially saved by a large enough budget to provide for worthier actors than the screenplay required, but not completely. There’s also the problem of how he removes a good deal of the ambiguity of King’s original short story, making the mistake of actually trying to explain what’s going on. I personally think the uncertainty of the story was better than what we get here.

Fortunately, outside of those two problems the film works well. It’s unsurprisingly well directed and fast paced. The film has more of a premise than a plot, in that it’s basically a group of disparate people (led by Tom Jane and Marcia Gay Harden) trapped in a supermarket by a potentially supernatural mist filled with strange, deadly creatures, but that generally works well in horror. The monsters, if a tad visually uninspired, are still pretty damn scary when they jump suddenly out of the gloom and start terrorizing everyone, and Toby Jones gives us an inspired performance as Ollie, the sweet yet sinister employee who pretty much behaves exactly how you would expect the charming, quiet man down the street with the collection of mangled corpses in his basement would act. The ending is also pretty damned effective; while the original story had a dark, yet ambiguous ending, this one removes the ambiguity in favor of a major gut punch. It’s the grimmest finale to a major Hollywood film I’ve seen in some time.

This is far from a perfect film, but it succeeds in what it sets out to do, which is to be a dark and scary monster movie. It may not quite crack my top five Stephen King films, but it’s certainly close (my top five, in no particular order, for any curious: Shawshank, Green Mile, Carrie, Creepshow, and maybe 1408). Folks wanting to warm themselves up for the holidays with a good horror movie should check this one out.

Rating: ***

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