Reviewed By Scott Weinberg
A large portion of making a successful monster movie lies right there in the description: Make a good monster, and you're close to making a good monster movie. Suffice to say that Frank Darabont's The Mist has numerous good monsters ... and yet they're not even the creepiest thing to be found in this very fine Hollywood horror film. It's the human animal, of course, that's always a bit more unpredictable -- no matter how exotic, horrific, and carnivorous your monsters are. And that's what makes The Mist so damn scary.
Thomas Jane plays our everyman sorta-hero. He's picking up a few things at the supermarket before heading back home to deal with some nasty storm damage. Only while he's standing in line with his little boy ... a local man, bloodied and bewildered, comes tearing into the market and yelling about "things in the mist!" And wouldn't you know it? The store is soon covered in a sheet of mysterious mist. And there are things ... out there.
A few unlucky folks get picked off in exceedingly nasty fashion, and that's when the real trouble starts to begin. Nope, not the plainly dangerous and overtly threatening monsters outside, but that "crazy" lady from down the road? She's become a real "end of days"-style bible-thumper, and the longer the situation goes on, the more suggestible the sheep get. So while most horror movies would be content with "characters try to stay alive while holed up in a store," The Mist ups the ante by saying "it might be better to brave the ravenous mystery monsters than to stick around for the inevitable collapse of society." Plus the monsters keep making things worse by scaring (and eating) the hell out of everyone.
It's pretty clear that writer / director Frank Darabont is having a ball with this material. Although best known for adapting two of the more 'austere' Stephen King movies (The Shawshank Redemption and The Green Mile), Darabont cut his teeth writing scripts like The Blob, The Fly 2, and Nightmare on Elm Street 3 -- so clearly we're talking about an "A-list" director who has some real affection and respect for the horror genre. For his third adaptation of a King story, Darabont just leans back and tosses a genre fastball right down the middle of the plate. Even at a solid two hours long, The Mist slides by with an almost effortless gait; even the smaller dialog scenes serve to amp up the 'big picture' tension just a little.
Stuffed with familiar faces, The Mist is a veritable who's who of solid character actors. Leading man Thomas Jane does his typically fine job, and he's backed by at least a half-dozen excellent supporting performances. Marcia Gay Harden, as the zealot-turned-prophet, delivers some great work, especially considering how easily this character could have become a goofy caricature. Special mention to veteran players like Bill Sadler, Jeffrey DeMunn, Andre Braugher, Toby Jones, and Frances Sternhagen for making the 'background' characters seem both realistic and worthy of some emotional investment. And while she's certainly no stranger to the horror fans, it's about time that Laurie Holden got some more attention. She's the essential heart of what turns out to be a pretty bleak flick.
Ultimately, much ink (and conversation) will be spilled over the movie's affection for ambiguity and its commitment to dark-hearted irony. Specifically, the finale (which is markedly different than what's found in the source material) is both bleak and oddly hopeful, and it adds a fascinating (if slightly maddening) capper to a big, meaty monster movie that's as entertaining for its Lovecraftian beasties as it is for its more "intellectual" aspirations. Darabont clearly feels no shame in delivering a white-knuckle monster movie, but he's smart enough to do so in a crafty, creepy, and literate fashion. Basically, it's the best monster movie since The Host, and the finest American example in I don't know how long.