Sunday, November 25, 2007

Lost in the Fog

The usually sure-handed Frank Darabont has created a mess of extra-dimensional, tentacled proportions in “The Mist,” his adaptation of Stephen King’s novella of the same name. While Darabont has had success helming adaptations of King’s more “literary” pieces, “The Shawshank Redemption” and “The Green Mile,” he handles King’s horror work without the same unity, simplicity, and character-based dynamics that made his previous works excel.

“The Mist” is full of great ideas; however, none are given enough space, time, or care to be examined as thoroughly as they deserve. The film depicts the experience of the citizens of Castle Rock, Maine, particularly the family of David Drayton (Thomas Jane), when a mysterious storm, complete with fatal mist, overtakes their town, trapping many of them within a supermarket where they must discover the nature of their problem and, basically, solve it. It is revealed, rather early in the film, that the mist contains a veritable zoo of CGI monsters, including a mysterious octopus-like entity and some enormous scorpion-locusts. A later (pointless) twist clarifies that the beasts crossed over into our world from an alternate dimension, being granted access by a group of (you guessed it) rogue military scientists. All of this sci-fi nonsense is really secondary (or at least it should be) in a film that is more interesting when it isn’t clear what’s in the mist and when the people inside are fighting amongst themselves.

During their imprisonment in the supermarket, the group of citizens engages in numerous conflicts (not even counting fighting off mutant pterodactyls) involving a variety of interesting theological, philosophical, political, and sociological ideas. The conflicts between the citizens cover issues including the merit of logical thinking, the dangers of faith-based societies, the irreducibility of the unknown, the place of violence in society, the detriments of trusting military establishments, the scary truth of scientific advancement, and the necessity of hope. The problem with “The Mist” is that it attempts to touch on ALL of these issues, leaving them ALL essentially untouched. The film could’ve been saved if a single issue had been selected out of all of these to be covered in greater depth. An excellent example of this approach can be seen in George Romero’s horror classic “Dawn of the Dead” (1978). In the film, Romero covers many of the bases pertaining to consumerism and socioeconomic realities and how they impact American society. “Dawn of the Dead” has an effectively narrowed focus and this gives it the ability to actually say something significant, a goal that “The Mist” seems to have but which it never achieves.

The most visceral, arresting tangent that “The Mist” careens onto deals with the establishment of a cult-like group of supermarket-trapped citizens that is constantly quoting the Book of Revelation and yelling about Biblical beasts and “expiation.” This group, led by an ultra-conservative tight ass named Mrs. Carmody (Marcia Gay Harden), considered the local religious nut, creates a stronghold of power and fanaticism and becomes an oppressive, totalitarian institution within the sequestered community of trapped supermarket shoppers. These power-hungry zealots are infinitely more terrifying that the shoddily animated monsters that fill the screen with half-assed, terrible looking graphics, debasing the terror and suspense to the level of shock-n-gore instead of genuine dread and atmosphere. Shifting the focus from acid-spitting spiders to real people and leaving the mist undefined and mysterious, maintaining its theological significance, could make “The Mist” a potentially incredible, although extremely different, film.

Aside from the film’s scatterbrained content, its style, pacing, and script are completely incompetent. The cinematography of the film is inspired at times, but unimpressive on the whole. Shot by two camera crews from television’s “The Shield,” the film contains many of the handheld, rapidly zooming shots common in “gritty” shows, like “K-Ville” and “24.” This visual schema would be more effective if the characters in “The Mist” were actually rounded and the dialogue and script didn’t sound as if the screenwriter was an angst-ridden high school student. However, flat characters making cutesy, semi-wry remarks and vaguely witty, hackneyed speeches combined with “gritty” cinematography results in a tonal clash similar to what might happen if one tried to make a neo-realist musical.

As far as pacing goes, “The Mist” speeds through what it should really concentrate on: characterization. The introductory portion of the film should define its characters in very subtle, specific ways. This would theoretically allow for the previously established characters to be revealed as more complex and intricate in the rest of the film. However, “The Mist” doesn’t seem to really bother with its characters in a serious sense until the action has already kicked in. Everything is glazed over. The characters aren’t revealed in their normal lives and this forces them to all seem like abnormal, unbelievable people. Only the stereotypical reactions of stock characters in scary situations are available as characterization and this makes the film feel detached, unreal, and ultimately ineffective, when it could be incredibly involving.

“The Mist” is full of ambition but bereft of the focus and the tight storyline that made Frank Darabont’s earlier films so admirable. The potential of the film is obvious and the film may certainly be limited by its source material. If you decide to brave “The Mist,” be prepared for a frustrating amalgam of clichés and misfires, as well as an ending that will probably make you comment out loud, “That’s just stupid as hell.”

by Brandon Colvin


Brandon Colvin said...

Hey James, it doesn't say I wrote this! Help a brotha out.

James Hansen said...

My bad.