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Saturday, December 29, 2007

REVIEW - "The Mist" (2007)

“The Mist” has the makings of a really bad movie. Like a Sci-Fi Channel Original Motion Picture plotline, “The Mist” is absurd enough to dismiss as cheap, b-movie fodder. Perhaps in some way it is, but Frank Darabont, the writer and director of “The Green Mile” and “The Shawshank Redemption,” gave Steven King’s monster story the benefit of being more than another bad movie. “The Mist” may start off kind of bumpy with a typical set-up and some cheesy lines, but Darabont recovers with every passing minute of this film.

David Drayton (Thomas Jane) takes his son with him to gather supplies after a massive storm hits their home on the edge of the lake. Once in the store an ominous mist covers the town and whoever exits the store is met with a gruesome death. As the store becomes a less safe place to stay, Drayton tries to plan an escape that will lead him in contact with the most bizarre and terrifying creatures anyone has ever seen. Thomas Jane pushes his acting abilities to places I was happy to see them go. This is easily his finest performance.

Characters trapped in a single building sounds awfully too close to a zombie flick or a certain vampire movie I despised this year. (“30 Days of Night”) But, unlike those movies, the characters we meet in this store are interesting enough to carry the film. Laurie Holden plays the lovable Amanda Dunfrey who is ever so pleasant in her quest to help Drayton and look after his son whenever he’s away. Marcia Gay Harden plays the maddening antagonist Mrs. Carmody, a religious fanatic who takes the Old Testament to heart and preaches to the entire store about the end of days and how God demands sacrifices. She may be more infuriating than “Harry Potter’s” Prof. Umbridge.

There’s never a dull moment with these characters-- Even when the monsters aren’t onscreen. When they are onscreen, however, it’s a thrilling, terrifying event. The attacks are gruesome much of the time, but using that same old “Jaws” and “Alien” method, it’s what you don’t see that’s the scariest. (On the other hand, the scene with the spider creatures nearly made me puke. That’s what I get for being arachnophobic though.)

The movie spares its quantity of thrills for quality and we’re often watching it with questions in mind. Mrs. Carmody slowly begins to sway the store’s people with her skewed religious babble. Does God really want sacrifices? Is that how it works? In one scene a person volunteers to go outside to see what’s in the mist and claims he believes in God too, but he doesn’t believe He’s the “blood sucking, son of a bitch you (Carmody) say He is.” Like many of Steven King’s stories, he questions faith or analyzes how it could be misconstrued, but doesn’t ever seem to bash it. What is God’s purpose here? Is he really throwing down punishment for mankind? Is Carmody right? Or is there a deeper rooted, more complex lesson here? Perhaps.

Drayton notes that he wants to get out of the store because of Carmody swaying the people to her point of view. Amanda assures that as a civilized people we wouldn’t “sacrifice” each other, but Drayton retorts with, “What happens when you take away water, electricity…” Are we so dependent on our comforts as a nation that its what has kept us in check? Is America, or other industrial nations for that matter, really just as “savage” as third world countries? Maybe more so?

And, typically, there’s the concept of government cover-ups. The ridiculous explanation for these creatures is revealed to be a military screw-up and that, of course, causes much drama in the store. Luckily it’s handled as well as it possibly could be and the film doesn’t dwell on the origin of these monsters for too long.

“The Mist” asks a lot of questions and it wants the audience to ponder on them after it’s over, but what type of ending makes an audience member rethink an entire movie for its message? Obviously, not everyone will like this movie because America demands the typical Hollywood ending-- All I have to say is that it took balls to push this finale out the door and it’s strong enough to cause either reflection or backlash. I say this remembering how amazed I was while several people exited the theater. It’s a shock.

There’s so much in “The Mist” to look at and think about that multiple viewings are a necessity. Along with “The Host,” “The Mist” is one of the strongest monster films out there right now and a must-see—If you dare to walk in to it.

***½ out of ****

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