Sunday, April 18, 2010

The Mist

Do you love stereotypes?  If so, then I have a movie for you!  It's called The Mist!  It's about a mysterious mist that envelops a town.  I probably should have written "Spoiler Alert" before that sentence.  Oh well, it's too late now.  Yes, this is another movie where a small group of friends/naughty teens/townspeople gather together in a building, trying to stay safe while zombies/vampires/serial killers/monsters/weather reign supreme outside.

I'm not against this story formula, mind you.  Most zombie movie follow it, and 30 Days of Night was the best vampire movie I've ever seen.  The enemy this time is, predictably enough, in...the mist.  DUH DAH DUMMMMM!!!  The building that townspeople gather in happens to be a grocery store.  So we've got a novel location and mysterious natural-looking phenomenon.  With those two elements, you could make a taut, stylish horror/thriller with no problem.  You could even go the original Dawn of the Dead route and use the location as a commentary on consumerism.  Or you could do what writer/director Frank Darabont did and do nothing of the sort.

Instead, we get insufferable, unbelievable characters.  I know, the script is based off a Stephen King short story, but that's no excuse.  Thomas Jane is the main character, and he is the best part of this movie; Jane stands out in his role as "the rational guy," if only because everyone else is poorly developed and makes bizarre choices.  Oscar winner Marcia Gay Harden is god awful as the resident holier-than-thou Bible thumper.  Does this movie really need a uber-judgmental Puritan in the cast?  Wouldn't it have been better served with a more moderate character, like...I don't know...maybe a reasonable person with a strong religious faith?  I would have settled for a character that just didn't sound like a cartoon.  Instead, one of the main characters is completely unsympathetic, despite a (theoretically) sympathetic underlying motivation.  Andre Braugher, who can be excellent when given the right role, is another disappointment.  He plays a hot shot lawyer and is clearly the most intelligent person in the grocery store.  His character's skepticism and sense of persecution are on par with the most annoying JFK conspiracy theorists you can imagine ("The moon landing was just a cover-up for The Man to finally get rid of FrankenKennedy!"  Actually, that's a decent B-movie right there...).  William Sadler is rarely a good actor, but is normally inoffensive.  Here, he's annoying.  Laurie Holden is decent, but she doesn't have a whole lot to work with.  The only supporting actor that was a pleasant surprise was Toby Jones.  He wasn't great by any means, but it doesn't take much to be a breath of fresh air when the rest of the cast are stock characters from soap operas.  Here, he plays the short, wussy guy who happens to be a crack shot with a pistol.  That's actually kind of cool.  The rest of the supporting cast is poorly developed, but ranges all the way from redneck to hick.

The characters are bad, but the plot could make that unimportant (see: Independence Day).  It doesn't.  Instead, ridiculous characters do ridiculous things when monsters attack.  For the first fifteen minutes or so of the group's self-imposed quarantine inside the store, there is the reasonable debate that there might not be anything dangerous in the mist.  Okay, that makes sense.  Until people you know die in front of you, it could all seem like hysteria.  That is, until one of the store clerks is killed by a monster's spiked tentacles in the loading dock area.  There's a lot of blood afterward and Thomas Jane chopped a tentacle off with a fire axe.  Okay, so there's clear physical proof, so now everybody can get on the same page.  For reasons that are beyond rational thought, Andre Braugher's character refuses to look at the blood or tentacle, assuming that it is a trick.  In fact, only a handful of people take a look at the evidence.  Personally, I would want to see bloody mist-borne killer tentacle parts, but that's just me.

The group splinters after this scene.  Six or seven people stay reasonable (read: the mist is dangerous, so let's wait this one out), a few more choose to be skeptical about the monsters and make a run for it (bad idea) and the rest apparently become early apocalyptic Christians, led by Marcia Gay Harden.  I've got nothing against religion or the Planter's products that can come with it, but people going from normal to "it's-the-end-of-the-world-let's-sacrifice-a-child" in under 48 hours is a bit more than I can chew.  There's a smaller contingent that just commit suicide.  As the plot progresses, Thomas Jane and his friends confront threats from the mist and from their fellow townspeople and are forced to blah blah blah.  Do you really want the details?  You know they have to go out in the mist eventually.  The movie's called The Mist, after all, not Waiting Patiently For the Mist to Evaporate.

As the movie goes on, this movie's logic gets a little lost.  Thomas Jane and co. change their tactics as it suits them.  They want to stay in the grocery store, where it's relatively safe.  But, when someone is clearly going to die, they go out into the mist to reach the pharmacy next door.  Sure, it's heroic, but the tentacle monster should have been all over them, but wasn't.  Instead, the monsters switch types throughout the film.  First, it was spiked tentacles, then prehistoric-sized bugs and mini-pterodactyls, then big spiders and later mammoth sized monsters.  No one ever says the words "monster" or "dinosaur" in this film, though.  That is hard for me to believe.  There is no reason given for this evolution, if that's what it is.  The monsters could just be taking turns, for all we know.  I hate that the film makes a half-assed attempt to explain where these creatures come from (another dimension, FYI), but never tackles the issue of why they only get attacked by one monster type at a time.

I get the basic premise of this story.  Individuals are reasonable, but groups are irrational.  Or, if you like the story, you can argue that it is about the lengths that ordinary people will go to under extraordinary circumstances.  What.  Ev.  Er.  That doesn't excuse the carelessness of this plot/script.  Frank Darabont has done an excellent job adapting Stephen King's work for the screen before and has done a good job directing those same films (The Shawshank Redemption and The Green Mile), but here he comes up short.  You can blame the source material, but Darabont could have changed anything he wanted to.  To be more realistic, he could have had the townspeople spend a longer time in the grocery store.  All you need to do is put "Day 3" up on the screen, kill some people with giant spiders, and then fade to black for "Day 11," when some characters commit suicide.  I can buy that.  But the degree of hopelessness in this film in such a compressed period of time is disheartening.  On the bright side, I never cared about any characters, so there's no problem when they die.  So, you win some and you lose some.

The ending to the movie is a little controversial because it deviates from King's original short story.  It shouldn't be a problem for fans of King in general or the story in particular; King signed off on the new ending, adding that he wished he had thought of it first.  I won't give the ending away, but I will say this: if you watch the movie and are enjoying it, this ending will seriously upset you.  If, like me, you thought this movie could fertilize your garden, then the ending might elicit a chuckle.

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