Letter From The Editor - Issue 59 - October 2017

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Writing Fantasy

  
At The Picture Show
November 2007

Attack of the cartoon bugs

Something in 'The Mist'? Well, certainly not anything we can take seriously

The Mist
MGM Films
Director: Frank Darabont
Screenplay: Frank Darabont, based on the novella by Stephen King
Starring: Thomas Jane, Laurie Holden, Marcia Gay Harden, Andre Braugher, Toby Jones, William Sadler, Alexa Davalos and Sam Witwer
Rated R / 2 hours, 7 minutes
Opened November 21, 2007
(out of four)

There's a calm, unknown chaos that washes over the town, its residents and the audience at the start of The Mist. A night after a raging storm, a thick mist rolls over, covering everything in sight. For purely logistical reasons if nothing else, those who innocently stopped by the grocery store that morning cannot get out.

Or is it, will not get out?

That debate is endlessly hashed out as those trapped inside quickly discover that the mist isn't going away any time soon. Lines are drawn, people pick sides, and the characters - doggedly clinging to the set traits of their one-dimensional archetypes - start to wrestle with the nature of belief, reasoning, faith, skepticism, doubt, fear.

But after that initial sense of foreboding has set in and things have to get moving along, the film becomes all too easy to read. We know exactly what the Psycho Bible-Toting Christian Lady (Marcia Gay Harden) is going to say and do. She's all fire and brimstone. We know exactly what the Skeptic (Andre Braugher) is going to say and do. He's all stubborn logic - pure doubt about anything out of the ordinary. (And we know exactly what's going to happen to him, don't we?)

We know exactly what the Reluctant Everyman Hero (Thomas Jane) is going to say and do. He's the balance between the two - he recognizes the supernatural force now upon them but is all logic and sound reasoning. He's the Smart one.

It becomes clear that none of the characters will ever change or adapt, and when they actually have to confront their beliefs and their fears, the results are largely unsatisfying. As far as I can remember, there's only one real surprise in the film - and it's not really the event that is surprising, but the timing of it.

The grocery store, naturally, serves as a microcosm of society, the warring societal factions representing, fairly obviously, opposing sides of our own socio-political discourse. It's a fine idea, but writer/director Frank Darabont - in his third Stephen King adaptation after The Shawshank Redemption and The Green Mile - doesn't go anywhere with his material. Not even when the giant flesh-eating bugs show up.

How can you screw up giant flesh-eating bugs? I'll tell you how: You craft some of the worst special effects of the digital era. I'm sure there are plenty of excuses - maybe the budget was slashed. It happens. Regardless, they're an embarrassment. They first make their appearance in a scene where giant tentacles slip through the back door and attack, and it's supposed to be an intense, important scene.

Instead, it can only possibly inspire laughs. When bugs finally break through the grocery-store windows and wreak havoc, the action sequences are completely implausible - if an actor, say, swings a mop at one of them, it's completely obvious that he's not swinging at anything. It's sloppy all-around.

Marcia Gay Harden's performance is almost as awful as the CGI, but the effects still take the cake. They suggest that The Mist will be remembered only as a campy B-movie. It'll probably be a hit at Redbox.

(And, by the way, I refuse to even acknowledge the absurd, out-of-the-blue romantic subplot that suddenly develops only to end in tragedy. I repeat: I will not discuss it.)

I'm a fan of Stephen King's work, though I haven't read this particular novella. Regardless of whether or not it's "true" to its source material, the film version goes wrong over and over. Explanations are lame, characters are flat, and there is one important moment of such phony dramatic irony that it renders much of what came before essentially meaningless.

There are thought-provoking possibilities here, to be sure, and the makeup of who survives and who doesn't is interesting, and must be intentional. But again, when all anyone was "surviving" was attacks by bad CGI bugs, it's hard to take it too seriously.

But, in case you were wondering, it's still better than 2005's The Fog.

Read more by Chris Bellamy


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