Wednesday, October 21, 2009

“It appears we may have a problem of some magnitude.”

Stephen King. Yeah, that’s one name to pay attention to when it comes to horror. When he’s not also writing prison dramas about hope and freedom… Speaking of Shawshank, the director of that movie, Frank Darabont, adapted King’s The Mist for the big screen in 2007. This should be good, right?

In a small Maine town not too far from Portland, something…happens and a mist descends upon the townsfolk. A group of people in a grocery store end up trapped inside when the fog rolls in and…things try to get in. Actually, it’s a variety of things, and we get a spread of some kind of tentacle monster, giant wasp things, bird things, spider things and more things that try to get inside. Turns out the survivors have found themselves inside a 1950s Monster Movie, where a “What hath SCIENCE done?!” theme gets merged with a “Lord of the Flies” like plot about societal collapse in the face of chaos and some really annoying fundamentalist lady.

Oh geez, its another one of these “Too many Characters, not enough development” kind of deals.

David Drayton: Thomas Jane is our Hero, an artist with showbiz connections, but he’s also a local to the town and has a son, Billy (played by Nathan Gamble). He doesn’t really like his neighbor, loves his wife and promises his son that the bad things aren’t going to get him. He’s our Point of View character for the disaster as well, and becomes one of the leaders of the survivors (at least until another faction pops up). He’s alright, but the character’s a bit flat.

Brent Norton: Andre Braugher (he was the general in Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer) is David’s neighbor, a lawyer, out-of-towner and black. He & David don’t really get along, but they do bond a little after the storm in the beginning that knocked trees down that crushed David’s boat house and Brent’s Mercedes. After the disaster, he organizes a group to go for help and they’re never heard from again. No, seriously. We don’t find out what happened to them, if they made it or not, though its probably assumed that they got eaten because the one guy who went out at the same time as them and had a rope tied around his waist most certainly did get eaten.

Amanda Dunfrey: Laurie Holden is a local who’s husband is out of town. She more or less becomes a protective figure for Billy Drayton, and is one of David’s faction. She has a generally high opinion of humanity.

Ollie Weeks: Toby Jones plays one of the supervisors in the grocery store and one of the crew who really rises to the occasion, helping organize the survival efforts and generally being competent (and handy with a revolver). He also reminds me of Billy Quizboy from The Venture Brothers show (make of that what you will)

Jim: William Sadler (who’s been in Shawshank and The Green Mile) is a local blue collar Joe who’s disbelief in the things out there early on help get a bagboy killed. Later, he snaps and abandon’s Drayton’s faction for another one. Has a friend named Myron who’s even less developed as a character.

Dan Miller: Jeffrey DeMunn (who was ALSO in Shawshank & The Green Mile) is the last one into the grocery store, having survived an attack by…something during the initial rolling in of the fog. He’s on Drayton’s side the whole time.

Irene Reppler: Frances Sternhagen is an old schoolteacher and generally a badass granny. She calls out the annoying character on her shit and also uses a lighter and a can of insect killer as a makeshift blowtorch. The movie’s badass, easily.

Private Jessup: Sam Witwer is a young army guy who knows a little bit about what the army was doing up at the base (messing around with other dimensions, though its not a surprise by the time we find out).

Sally: Alexa Davalos is a cashier in the store and ostensibly Private Jessup’s love interst, but aside from two scenes together, you could’ve fooled me.

Mrs. Carmody: Marcia Gay Harden is an odd case here. On the one hand, she’s easily the most animated character of the film, chewing scenery and ranting like a crazy person, so its obvious the actress was having fun on set. HOWEVER, she’s also annoying as all hell what with her being a ranting Christian Fundamentalist who is utterly convinced that the mist is a sign of the end times and my God does she turn into a broken record and you just wish someone would put a bullet in her. She ends up forming another faction that challenges Drayton’s ideas, and becomes the Villain, more or less. But she’s not really a good villain because there’s no nuance to the character, nothing to make her sound like a charismatic demagogue that can take advantage of the chaos to spread her ideas. No, she just comes off as a two dimensional, haughty, condescending crazy pants, and I find it incredibly difficult to believe that within two days she could assemble a tremendous following. A week, maybe (if I’m feeling generous) but not two days.

I hope you like gray, because this movie delivers a lifetime supply of it on your doorstep. A wall-to-wall gray fog settles in over the town, and that’s both a tonal strength, I suppose, but also a weakness. On the one hand, sure a solid curtain of gray helps add an oppressive gloom to things, but its not scary by any means. Its not even creepy when compared to the layered fogs that show up in older horror films. You know, the kind that form a three foot blanket across the ground and swirl lazily back and forth. The monsters are generally well done CGI, but they’re all pretty gray as well. Character death scenes are generally brutal and a welcome break from the overall slow visual pace of the rest of the movie, but there’s nothing at all particularly scary about anything going on. I will say that I appreciate the movie’s lack of jump cuts, though. At least it didn’t take the easy way out in that regard.

Novella by Stephen King and screenplay by Frank Darabont. Not having read the story, I can’t say for sure, but the way everything goes, I’m sure it probably works better on the page than on the screen. On the screen, its just a big boring take on a 50’s monster movie with some heavy handed “social commentary” about societal collapse and demagoguery and so on. Its not fun in a cheesy way, and it didn’t convince me that this was “serious business.” The pacing was glacial, the characters two-dimensional and the dialog was generally forgettable, despite having a pretty decent cast. And as for the twist ending, I won’t spoil it, but I will say that anyone who’s read even a little bit of speculative fiction (sci-fi) short stories won’t be surprised at all. That twist is as common as rocket ships and laser rays in sci-fi short stories.

The score by Mark Isham is inoffensive and forgettable. There is, however, one song that gets some “serious business” moments near the end, “The Host of Seraphim” sung by Lisa Gerrard and Dead Can Dance as a car is driving away from the grocery store into the fog. The song is basically a woman wailing and coupled with the slowish movement of the scene, just comes off as incredibly cheesy and super serious to the point of absurdity in how I reacted to the music is in the scene with a disbelieving laugh.

I, uh, really didn’t like The Mist. At All. Actually, no, it went past “not like” to “actively dislike.” It’s a boring movie and I called the “What hath SCIENCE done?!” theme really early on (pretty much from the moment I saw military trucks). The ending, while not entirely foreseen, wasn’t a surprise either because, again, similar things happen a lot in these kinds of stories. A real disappointment of a movie, since Darabont's work on The Shawshank Redemption was really, really solid. This…this isn’t a badly made movie by any means, but its just so boring that I can’t even muster an entertaining form of rage to criticize it mercilessly. Now, I have heard that the DVD had a cut of it in black & white, and that probably would’ve helped the movie out a lot, but that’s not the movie that was watched.

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