The Mist

The Mist ★½

Part of I Can't Believe It's Not Hooptober!.

I avoided watching The Mist for a decade, originally on the simple basis that I knew there were spider monsters in it and I'm afraid of spiders. Seriously, that was it. Over time I've gotten (slightly) better at dealing with that, but my interest in the movie had simply waned in favor of other films and it stayed stuck on the back burner. The ending was spoiled for me somewhere over the course of those 10 years; not that it bothered me much, considering that I'd read the novella and while that ending was much more ambiguous, it was by no means a stretch to assume what could happen. A friend of mine also had not seen the movie (and had actually managed to avoid spoilers for the ending) and thus included it on our October lineup, assuming it would be a good pick based on reviews and anecdotes. Seemed reasonable to me.

Well we both hated it.

Much like when I watched The Howling, the feeling of finally seeing an acclaimed (at least in the horror community) movie and feeling completely flabbergasted at it's popularity is a difficult one to wrestle with. Did I watch it wrong? Did I miss something? When I watched that film, I watched it again the very next day, this time bringing the same friend in to watch it with me to try and verify what I was seeing. In this case, I already had that second opinion handy and incredibly we were note for note on the same page. In fact, I think he might have hated it more than I did.

What can I say that I liked about this film? While a lot of the CGI effects have aged poorly, some of the creature design is still really cool, as are some of the gore effects. The giant walker scene is tense and humbling. I would also say that if any of the actors deserved praise it would be Marcia Gay Harden for her much hated Mrs. Carmody. She throws herself full force into the lines and commands her scenes well. Not to immediately downplay her performance, but I do have to say it isn't exactly difficult given the cast of 50 odd extras and a revolving door of nameless cardboard tropes that otherwise permeate the film. Thomas Jane is sufficiently "everyman" enough to get by, his most relatable feature being that he isn't criminally insane. He's joined by modern woman, two old people, a child, a couple rednecks, a couple teenagers, and an army guy. I couldn't tell you any other character names than Ollie, simply because I recognized Toby Jones and was amused at his appearance (and then later disappointed, as he deserves better than this). There is actually a fair amount of talent in this movie and all of it feels completely squandered.

Every bit of dialogue is infuriatingly hammy and on the nose. Like most of the film it feels painfully scripted; quotable snark and overzealous wisdom that works better on the page than in film. I've had this similar complaint with other King adaptations honestly; sometimes it works but there is a lot more leeway on paper than in person, dependent upon the tone of the film. Characters regularly stand around, allowing people to spout vile rhetoric and insults while patiently waiting their turn in the way that simply isn't natural or realistic. Character exist to be preached at and to serve as vehicles for drama, intently humanized in the brief moments before their obviously impending demise. I felt nothing for the deaths of characters whose primary traits were to be generally sad or scared, simply because such traits illicit feelings of empathy (besides that many of their deaths came from their own astoundingly stupid actions, or lack of actions while they stood around screaming). The most description I could give you of any relationship between any two characters in this movie is that they either hate each other or they don't. There is nothing beyond the surface, and most of them are truly awful to each other.

Sadly I also found myself really confused and annoyed by the technical aspects of this film, which are remarkably shoddy. Digging into it, there was an effort to make this film quickly and cheaply for various reasons, most notably to preserve Darabont's vision for the ending (which I do respect at least). They ended up using a two team camera unit known for working on TV shows like The Shield to get that speed of production. Well, it sure looks like something made for TV. The camerawork has a few interesting moments, catching scenes from a distance or around a corner, voyeuristically capturing some of the early dissension and paranoia in the large cast. Most of the time though shots are obstructed by objects in frame, or over people's shoulders, or it just weaves and zooms with a wild energy that almost borders a feeling of found footage. Straddling that line of professionalism and amateurism lands it right in the middle. Between this, the melodramatic dialogue and sheer predictability, I would completely believe this to be a made for TV movie, rather than a "modestly" budgeted $18M wide release.

And let's not forget about the score, most of which I cannot remember for the life of me (I'm not even sure looking back if most of the film is scored at all). It only rears it's ugly head during a couple key scenes at the end, where we get dramatic slow motion while the gaudiest choral piece blares over the scene to make sure we know just how powerful this long shot of this jeep driving by this supermarket is. It flares up again during the ending, now infamous for how bleak it is (and I agree that it is in concept, too bad none of the characters have personalities and the entire event is so contrived that it's completely hilarious). Bonus points for being the second King adaptation film with a painfully clear Wilhelm scream I've seen this month too.

Maybe if I approached this movie as a cheesy B flick to be mocked I could find some enjoyment out of it. It certainly veers into the "so bad it's funny (I don't want to say good)" territory from time to time, but most of the time it's just plain frustrating and unfulfilling. It takes itself completely seriously as well, and I put a fair bit of stock into a film's intent. It's clearly meant to be dramatic and harrowing, but I only found it to be agitating and eyeroll inducing. I wish I'd never watched it and it could've remained a concept in my head of a movie that is bleak, depressing, and actually compelling.

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