November 22, 2007

The Mist

themistAn excellent adaptation of one of my favorite Stephen King stories. A creepy bugs 'n' tentacles horrorfest, crossed with a "Lord of the Flies"-style disintegration of civilization. Director-screenwriter Frank Darabont made a great movie out of Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption, and he gets all the big stuff and small stuff right in The Mist. A freak summer storm triggers a catastrophic failure at an Area 51-style base in Maine. An unnatural mist overtakes a nearby town, and a storeful of shoppers are trapped inside an old-fashioned supermarket when their world disappears outside. Unlike most "end of the world" movies (Deep Impact, The Day After Tomorrow), where the omniscient camera instantly travels the globe to show us every data point related to the catastrophe, there's no briefings with the President in The Mist. We only know what the townsfolk can conjecture. Three Army privates share a little second-hand information about The Arrowhead Project, but the basis for the whole story is that no one knows what happened, when it will end, or why.

The shoppers quickly discover that the mist hides hideous monsters, monsters which will snatch up anyone who sets foot outside. The monsters are more than nasty enough. One character gets stung on the neck by a giant locust, and is dead within five minutes. Spiders spin webs which burn into the skin. These aren't Jumanji-style "just swat 'em with a tennis racket" bugs: the humans don't stand a chance. Kinda like the movie Jurassic Park would have been if Steven Spielberg had the guts to kill characters we cared about. Perhaps the flying bugs are a little too well detailed. They are given multiple close-ups, and the effects are very good, but most of the movie is shot in a handheld, digital video style, with plenty of shaky zooms and "unplanned" camera movement. So when we are shown a long, steady closeup of a locust hovering in front of Marcia Gay Harden, I wished the bug was photographed as shakily as the rest of the movie. My favorite bugs in the whole movie are the ones we barely see: the creature which kills Ollie has at least four pointed legs like a scorpion. Then there's creature King describes in the book, as his survivors try to drive south to escape the mist: a lumbering beast so giant, it towers over the highway, its legs so long the body cannot be seen passing above. Darabont nails it perfectly- we can barely make it out through the mist, but my imagination made up the difference.

The performances were all good. As the rational protagonist, Thomas Jane hits all the important character points just right: strong and resourceful, yet vulnerable and protective of his son. While his is the lead character, the whole movie balances on Marcia Gay Harden as the town's superstitious crank, who evolves into a murderous religious zealot as the walls close in. Her doom crying and Old-Testament babble is the emotional pivot which turns the movie, and if she couldn't support the movie's weight, the whole thing would have collapsed. Darabont assembled a fine cast of supporting players, including Toby Jones, Andre Braugher, Laurie Holden, Jeffrey DeMunn, Frances Sternhagen, and William Sadler. My wife liked Nathan Gamble as Thomas Jane's son, and I was distracted by the weird face of Sam Witwer as Pvt. Wayne Jessup: besides his giant cleft chin, he clearly has a unibrow issue which he fixes with severe grooming. I kept staring at the hairless space between his brows- I could almost see the dotted line where the plucking begins.

Readers of the story will remember that the book ends with an open-ended "Hitchcock" ending. This wouldn't be satisfactory for a feature film which I paid $11 to see: people want a resolution. I feel that Darabont's ending, while traumatic, is close to as good as you could write. I am more frustrated with the marketing weasels, who included a shot in the TV commercials which gives away the ending. Even someone who had not read the book could catch this spoiler if they were paying attention. All through the movie, that one shot from the TV spot was lingering in the back of my mind, spoiling away.

THEATER NOTES: Emily and I went to the AMC Aviation 12 in Linden NJ, with Emily's sister Becca. Planning against a busy post-holiday crowd, I got us to the multiplex 30 minutes in advance, and we ended up the first persons to sit in the theater. Oh well. While walking out of the theater around 10pm, we were greeted by a couple + their four year old son standing in the doorway. Please God tell me that they weren't taking a child to see that movie! I think spiders bursting from a dead man's chest, a pterodactyl ripping a man's neck out, and a bisected corpse being dragged through a parking lot are a little much for the Spongebob set.