The Mist, as you may have guessed, is an adaptation of a novella by Stephen King, originally published in his 1985 anthology Skeleton Crew. I have been a King fan since reading Carrie at age 13. King has run hot and cold over the years, but The Mist is one of his better shorter works and is a story I always thought would make a great movie. When I heard that Frank Darabont was directing the adaptation, my expectations went through the roof. Some of you may remember that Darabont is the fellow who has made not one, but two excellent adaptations of two of King’s best works, The Shawshank Redemption and The Green Mile. He is one of the few directors who actually gets King (and for those of you who have never read King because of what you have heard, let me assure you that his best work, even his mediocre work, is about a whole lot more than creepy-crawly things that go bump in the night).
The Mist begins with a late night storm ravaging a seaside community in New England. The main character, David Drayton (Thomas Jane), his wife, and young son ride the storm out in their cellar. The next morning, while surveying the damage, David, his family, and their neighbor Brent Norton (Andre Braugher) notice an unusually thick mist in the distance, but think nothing of it. We discover through the course of their tense conversation that the Draytons and the Nortons have a history of tension over the kinds of disputes that happen between bad neighbors. Regardless, David decides to try to bury the hatchet and offers Brent a ride to the grocery store. With his car having been crushed by a falling tree, Brent readily accepts.
Once at the store, David, Brent, and David’s son Billy find the market full of people; and Darabont efficiently uses this scene to introduce us to the rest of the characters. As they wait in line to check out, Dan Miller (Jeffrey DeMunn), a local, comes screaming into the store, looking bloody and disheveled, with the mist following behind him and begs the manager to lock the doors. Miller keeps saying that something in the mist is taking people. After the manager complies, the store patrons discover that Miller was not exaggerating and that there are things in the mist that want to get into the store. With no knowledge of what is in the mist, how far the mist has spread, or if they have any chance of rescue, the store patrons soon begin to take sides and the danger in the store is as great as what is outside of the store. The rest of the movie is a creepy, claustrophobic thriller and pop sociological study.
The casting is excellent, with standouts including Braugher (will someone please get this guy another leading role?), Toby Jones as Ollie, the assistant manager who becomes one of David’s allies, and Marcia Gay Harden as Mrs. Carmody, a religious fanatic who believes that the strange goings-on are a sign of (surprise!) apocalypse. Some will point out that Mrs. Carmody is a stereotype and cliche, yet to his credit Darabont doesn’t try to portray her as an evangelical; rather, she comes off as a deluded woman who has fashioned her own bizarre variation on faith as an outlet for her disorder. The special effects work for the most part (I especially liked that they avoided a dependence on CGI), and Darabont makes a surprising and nifty twist in the end that deviates from the source material but nicely complements the movie’s theme of hope vs. despair.
This brings us to Southland Tales, and a different experience altogether. This is Richard Kelly’s long awaited follow-up to Donnie Darko (2001), one of the weirder, more original films of the decade. And having watched it, I still am not 100% certain what Southland Tales is supposed to be about. It seems to be about how time travel, totalitarianism (in the name of national security) and the creation of a perpetual source of energy will destroy the world. Not a lot of it makes sense, from the casting to the directing to the sporadic bursts of violence to the beyond-weird ending. I recommend it only for the morbidly curious.
On an unrelated note – To my fellow WordPress users: What did they do with spell-check?!