You're in a crowded supermarket picking up groceries and anticipating a nice quiet evening. Suddenly, a dark cloud envelopes the parking lot and sweeps over the store. Then, someone runs in, bloody and screaming about something that took his friend in the mist. What would you do??? Well, probably my first inclination would be, "Don't go outside!" But with unknown monsters lurking in the mist, and known ones inside the store with you, there may not be much choice.
One of Stephen King's classic stories comes to life in this dark adaptation by Frank Darabont, director of the "better" Stephen King film adaptations such as The Green Mile and The Shawshank Redemption. The novella that inspires the film is probably the perfect length for adaptation; it's short enough so that you don't have to cut much of anything out, yet long enough to support a real story. In this case, we have a middle-aged man named David Drayton who takes his eight-year old son Billy to the grocery store after a mysterious storm has passed through the town. But then the mist rolls in, and there are suddenly two separate dangers; the fear of the unknown and what is outside in the mist, and the ever-worsening state of the people inside the store, including a woman starting her own religious cult and others who start believing that blood is the only way to keep away what's coming closer and closer.
The movie has a good cast. Thomas Jane, whose last high-profile role was probably as The Punisher does a good turn here as David Drayton, the sort of Everyman who tends to inhabit a lot of Stephen King's books. Andre Braugher plays Brent Norton, David's obnoxious neighbor who hitches a ride into town with him. Laurie Holden plays Amanda, a young schoolteacher who befriends David and his son and whose role is somewhat changed from that in the book. Finally, Marcia Gay Harden plays Mrs. Carmody, a fire and brimstone evangelical type who gets the prime role and a lot of scenery to chew in the movie. All the other characters in the book are represented in the movie; some of their roles (and fates) are altered slightly but stay pretty close to those in the book.
The plot follows closely from the book as well, though there are some elements that have been altered. There are military personnel who are trapped that play a much larger role than they do in the book. Of course, given our current geopolitical situation, there is much debate as to whether there is a commentary going on here about the current war on terror, the current state of the nation, and what not. These days, itís almost impossible to get a movie that's not going to try to address that topic in some way, even if it is just some offhand joke or something. In the movie though, it is easy to ignore the subtext, which is subtle and does not really add to or detract from the film in any significant way.
The special effects in The Mist are good, not great. The monster that grabs the bag boy (Norm) in the loading dock is somewhat reminiscent of the monster from the movie Deep Rising. The larger creatures are done pretty well, with one towards the end looking especially impressive. However, the smaller "bugs" are just not scary. Maybe I'm jaded or something, but seeing bugs with what appear to be little faces just does not scare me anymore, nor does it particularly impress me as a feat of special effects. To me, they looked like a more advanced version of "The Zanti Misfits" from the old Outer Limits series. There were also some fairly gory moments requiring some sophisticated makeup effects, all of which were done fairly well. I enjoyed seeing most of the creatures up on the screen; they were true to the book.
OK, now we get to the most controversial part of the movie, the ending. The book has a very ambiguous ending, with Drayton, his son, Amanda, and one other escaping from the grocery store in Drayton's vehicle and driving in the mist until they run out of gas near a hotel. The book ends with Drayton writing down his story in a journal and them trapped in the hotel with no end in sight and Drayton not knowing if his wife is dead or alive.
Well, in the movie, things have changed significantly. There is now another person in the vehicle, an older man. In the book, they cannot reach Drayton's house because of fallen tree limbs. In the movie, they reach it and see Drayton's wife hanging in a spider web, presumably dead. Eventually, the vehicle runs out of gas, and they have a decision to make. They have a gun with four bullets, and there are five of them. What do they do?
1) Drayton shoots everyone else, including his son, and steps outside to meet his fate.
2) Stay in the car for a while to see what develops
3) Draw straws between Amanda, the old lady and the old man. Whoever loses shoots the other four and steps outside to meet his or her fate.
4) Make a run for it and try to find a tree to climb or something, anything else!
As it turns out, they pick 1). Drayton shoots everyone, then gets out of the car and yells for the monsters to take him. Well, right then and there the mist clears up and the army arrives in tanks and helicopters, getting rid of the monsters with flame-throwers, and moving civilians down the road in trucks to shelters. Of course, our main character is driven insane with guilt after having slaughtered his only remaining family and friends for no good reason. This was, I thought, an incredibly cynical way to end the movie.
In the book, there is a faint suggestion that there is someone still alive out there for our people to reach. But in the movie, all hope is lost, and the only thing to do is kill everyone you love and then yourself. In my mind, what they should have done, and it would have been such a minor change, was for the gun to have five bullets. Drayton kills his family and friends and then himself, THEN the army starts showing up and the mist clears up. There was no need for Drayton to live, as the message would have come across just as clearly. I was very disappointed by the ending. I know it was a popular choice, but itís not the choice I would have made. And I was disappointed that the mist just cleared up, just like that. No explanation, nothing. It almost seemed like they ran out of time/money to do more with it, so it was just gone.
Overall, I enjoyed the movie, but the ending was not something you want to dwell on. It proves, however, in the hands of a good director, a Stephen King adaptation can be done well and with a different ending, this could have been a really good monster movie with a dark ending. As it was, I'm glad I saw it, but I wouldn't want to see it again.