Tuesday, March 25, 2008

The Mist. Monsters aren't terribly scary. Humans are scary. Out now. (*****5/10)

A movie based on a Stephen King novel is not always an indication that good things will happen. Most of us remember most of the movies based on his books as complete train wrecks. Dreamcatcher, Needful Things, Maximum Overdrive, Cujo...all awful films. There have been only two really successful movies based on King’s works - The Shawshank Redemption and The Green Mile. (Although I didn’t like the Green Mile much, at least it wasn’t Graveyard Shift.) Both of those films were directed by Frank Darabont, who seems to do his best work when he collaborates with Stephen King. (He was also the screenwriter for The Fly 2 and Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. Which were as bad as Needful Things.)

The Mist is their third film together, and it does rise a little bit above the other King movies, but does not approach the quality of say, Shawshank. The biggest problem with the movie seems to be, remarkably, a disconnect between the writer and the director. Stephen King is successful because he understands that the scariest thing in the world is other people, far more so than any monsters or spirits or bugs that might hide in the mist. But Darabont is so intent on showing the dark side of human nature and the evil that resides within men that he is too anxious to show it. The premise of the story is that a mist descends over a small town, and there are horrible creatures that hide within that mist and kill people when they venture too far into that mist. A bunch of people are trapped inside the local grocery-hardware store, and they begin to self-destruct. Apparently, as far as this film is concerned, these people are so ready to turn on each other that they do so within one minute of the mist descending. They are instantly transformed into idiots, maniacs and evil-doers, in the time it would take normal people to finally understand there was anything wrong.

And am I the only one who notices that Aaron Eckhardt and Thomas Jane are the same person? Jane is the star of The Mist, a father who is protecting his young son at all costs against the creatures outside, and more importantly, the religious fanatic nutjobs inside. He is, for all intents and purposes, Aaron Eckhardt with less smiling. They are the same person, and I will not believe otherwise until I see them in the same movie together. In the same scene. I like Jane, and in this film, he is pretty good. So is Toby Jones, as a supermarket employee who looks like Andy Warhol but is able to channel his inner Rambo when the situation calls for bloodshed and firearms. This occurs almost right away, and the first monster attack comes early. It isn’t terribly scary, but then the monsters aren’t supposed to be the scary part of the story. It is the people.

The problem is with the people. Their conflicts feel forced, since they seem to go against what one would assume about human nature. No matter how much your neighbour might hate you, if you are put in a situation where creatures are attempting to eat you, you would try to get along with that neighbour, no? And if thirty people tell you that something in the mist is eating people, your first reaction is not likely to be "this must be an elaborate practical joke being played on me by everyone". It would more likely be something like "there might well be things in the mist that want to eat me". So the whole human-emotions-at-their-basest theme becomes a little comic bookish. There are also some cheesy, irritating speeches about the nature of humanity, which seem to have a greater purpose, but nothing really rings true.

The people in the store have been trapped there for two days. Two days, and already they have split into two factions. The reasonable people who want to work to get out of there, and the far larger group of people who listen to the horrible bible-thumping religious zealot woman and decide to sacrifice children. This could work if it was done better. But it isn’t. The Mist has two things going for it. First of all, it does what good horror movies are supposed to do. Which is to make some kind of social and political commentary out of the horror. That comment here is basically that if you scare people enough, you can get them to do anything and follow anyone. I wonder what that’s directed toward? And secondly, the ending. Although it doesn’t save the whole movie, it certainly comes as a surprise, and you can definitely chalk it up among the most shocking endings to a movie.

One more thing - if you’re going to have creatures from "another dimension" that "cross over into our world", wouldn’t you expect those creatures to be something cool that you’ve never seen before? If they were just giant locusts and pterodactyl-men and monster spiders, wouldn’t you think someone had created them here? Just a thought. The Mist comes out today, courtesy of Alliance Films.

4 comments:

  1. There is one other Stephen King movie adaption that was fantastic, Stand by Me based on SK's short story, The Body from Different Seasons. It actually followed the book's storyline adn did not deviate from it. Directed by Rob Reiner.
    Shawshank was good as was Green Mile, but there were some changes in characters (ie Morgan Freeman's character Red was actually a white guy with red hair)
    It did not diminish the movies, but just a point that Hollywood thinks they can improve books by changing them. Idiots.

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  2. True. Stand By Me was fantastic. And The Mist deviates only slightly from the book too, in that the ending is so different. In that case, I think it was an improvement. Oh - and I should add Carrie to the list of the good King films too.

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  3. the Mist is a thinker for sure, pretty good all around, except a lot of the character conflict was really predictable...

    is it me, or did those insect-like aliens have human teeth?

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  4. I was thinking the same thing. Aaron and Thomas look the same. They did act together in a little known action dark comedy called "Thursday" which is pretty entertaining.

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