by Mel Valentin
Book or story to screen adaptations of Stephen King’s work cluster around the mediocre ("1408", "Pet Cemetery," "Firestarter") or the truly wretched ("Night Flyer," "Night Shift", "Maximum Overdrive"). Of the few adaptations that stand on their own, most were made from King’s early novels ("Carrie," "Salem’s Lot," "The Shining") or novellas ("The Shawshank Redemption," "Stand by Me") with the occasional exception ("Dolores Clairborne," "Misery") drawn from his realistic novels. Writer/director Frank Darabont has adapted two of King’s work, "The Shawshank Redemption" and "The Green Mile," and after a long hiatus, is back with a third, an adaptation of King’s 1980 apocalyptic survival/horror novella, "The Mist."Darabont sticks closely to King’s novella, centering The Mist on David Drayton (Thomas Jane), an artist who lives and works from a lakeside home in Maine. After a freak electrical storm knocks out all the power in the area, Drayton decides to go into town to stock up on supplies with his son, Billy (Nathan Gamble), and his neighbor, Brent Norton (Andre Braugher), in tow. Drayton leaves his wife, Stephanie (Kelly Collins Lintz), behind to face a seemingly innocuous mist rolling in over the lake. Drayton discovers the supermarket jam-packed. Everyone, it seems, decided to come to the supermarket to stock up.
But then the mist rolls in. One man, Dan Miller (Jeffrey DeMunn), appears out of the mist, bloodied, and bruised and with a story to tell: something non-human came out of the mist and took his friend. The other townspeople disbelieve him at first, but decide to stay put. The screams of a man dying in the mist suggest that Wayne’s story might be, in fact, true, but it’s not until several men decide to open the loading dock door to clear a vent for the generator that they realize something large and hungry is out there waiting for them. But some of the townspeople cling tenaciously to their rationality like a life raft, including Norton, who suspects Drayton and the other locals are pulling an elaborate gag on him. Rationality means nothing, however, to Mrs. Carmody (Marcia Gay Harden), a deeply disturbed religious zealot who suggests that the monsters in the mist are harbingers of the end times and of God's wrath. Only Wayne Jessup (Sam Witwer), a soldier from a local army base, seems to know what's going on.
The struggle between rationality and fear and between religious zealotry and fire forms the backbone both of King’s novella and Darabont’s adaptation. Human conflict, the breakdown of the social order, personalities crushed under extreme duress are also elements found in most stories involving apocalyptic horror, of which there’s no better example than George A. Romero’s Night of the Living Dead. Despite a larger cast of characters in The Mist, the conflicts are practically the same, the dilemmas almost identical: what to do when information is severely limited and the risks are high, usually filtered down to a simple, if extremely hazardous choice between staying or going.
In all that, The Mist is a fine example of the sub-genre. The increasing desperation of the characters, the turn to religious comfort, and eventually, the turn to violence as the answer are emphasized in a way few directors working in the horror genre would, since they’d risk heavy criticism for such a choice. Backed by Dimension Films (a.k.a. the Weinstein Brothers), Darabont was given wide latitude in adapting King’s novella. To his credit, Darabont includes all the major characters and, just as importantly, all of the major plot points, including the attacks by the monsters, each one more intense than the last. Up until the last ten or fifteen minutes, The Mist is truer to King’s work than any other adaptation of his work.
Darabont, however, strays from The Mist original ending or, to be accurate, continues the story past where King left his readers. King opted for an ambiguous ending, one that gave the survivors, at best, a temporary victory. Frustrating or refusing narrative closure, The Mist allowed readers to make up their own ending, hopeful or bleak. Darabont’s ending provides far more closure and offers, at least on one level, a more optimistic ending, but another, more personal (meaning the characters we’ve followed for two hours), it’s anything but. It’s bleakly ironic and probably the most daring ending to a mainstream film this year.If "The Mist" doesn’t falter by tacking on a “false” or illogical ending (it doesn’t), it’s far from perfect. At almost two hours, "The Mist" is too long and repetitive, especially where the bible thumping, Revelation-quoting Mrs. Carmody is concerned. The visual effects are also a bit dodgy, due no doubt to budget constraints. To be fair, most of the visual effects, especially those obscured by the mist are more than serviceable. It’s in the cold light of day or in a well-lit interior that the visual effects look unfinished or unpolished. Luckily, that only happens twice, once during the loading dock scene and later on during an attack on the supermarket. Still, those are minor, easily forgivable problems in comparison to Darabont’s achievement: an adaptation of a Stephen King work that’s faithful to the source material while managing to stand on its own.
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originally posted: 11/20/07 19:25:31