There’s nothing like a good horror allegory to get your blood going.
“Invasion of the Body Snatchers” (1956), “Night of the Living Dead” (1968) and “The Fly” (1986) are touchstones of a genre that uses its grotesque premises as the basis for social criticism. Now Frank Darabont (“The Shawshank Redemption”) seeks to tap into that vein with “The Mist,” another of his adaptations of Stephen King stories. Unfortunately, someone forgot to tell him that when you confront a complicated issue, you have to understand the issue first.
“The Mist” finds a large group of townspeople, including movie-poster artist David (Thomas Jane, “The Punisher”), holing up in a supermarket when a mysterious mist engulfs the streets. Hysteria soon breaks out. An unhinged wannabe evangelist (Marcia Gay Harden, “Mystic River”) takes advantage of the situation by preaching her gospel, while David comes to the realization that there’s something dangerous lurking in the mist. The question: Who should be feared more? The monster or the religious nut and her cronies?
Darabont’s film starts strong, with quiet scenes of unease that masterfully ratchet up the tension while introducing the central characters. The noticeable lack of music, the detached camerawork and the colorful performances reel in the audience. All the elements seem to point to a memorable payoff, but the film then suddenly stalls in a succession of mud puddles.
The film’s most readily noticeable failure is a technical one. Remember your disappointment when, while watching “Jaws,” that monstrous shark you’d been dreading for the first hour and a half was revealed as something more akin to a giant rubber condom with teeth? The effect is similar here, as the monsters’ slimy, computer-generated tentacles are seen not even a half an hour into the film and look like they could barely pass in an old PlayStation game. If a film puts its special effects as front and center as “The Mist” does, they better be convincing.
But “The Mist” suffers most from its skewed and self-righteous social criticism. In the film, religious devotion is synonymous with ignorance, fear and hysteria. Secularism, on the other hand, is personified by the film’s strong-willed, noble and heroic protagonists who, naturally, must fend off the fanatical “believers” as the film progresses toward its downbeat conclusion.
“The Mist” wants desperately to be taken seriously as an allegory, but it fails miserably in trying. Its vision is too narrow, too contrived and, frankly, too na’ve to be taken seriously. Human beings are simply not this black and white, no matter how much some Hollywood filmmakers would like to think they are (probably because it makes their jobs a lot easier). Religion manifests itself in different ways and in different kinds of people, yet “The Mist” refuses to see it that way; instead, Darabont serves us a blatantly negative slant on religion, dressed up with frustratingly one-dimensional characters and ear-splitting dialogue.
Besides, the potential as a thriller clear during the film’s first act is scrapped in favor of overused set pieces and laughably obvious directorial choices, even going so far as to cap off with one of those generic sequences of anguished characters walking in slow motion while ethnic music wails in the background (what is it with those?).
The decision to focus on atmosphere and tension instead of out-and-out carnage is refreshing, but, ultimately, the aggressive nature of the film’s message trumps everything else. And yet “The Mist” holds little food for thought: It’s as insubstantial as its title would suggest.
Rating: 2 out of 5 stars
At Quality 16 and Showcase