November 29, 2007

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Stephen King’s The Mist (R)
The fog rolls in and the people freak out in a small Maine town in Stephen King’s The Mist, a movie that does indeed have its source material’s author’s name as part of the title.

So that you won’t confuse it with someone else’s The Mist. Or with The Fog, which seems to have been the beginning and end of Maggie Grace’s post-Lost career.

Artist David (Thomas Jane) hustles his family down to their home’s basement just in time to miss the giant tree crashing through his studio window during a big storm. The next morning he and neighbor Brent (Andre Braugher) — with whom David has had a difficult relationship due to some legal disputes over their abutting properties — head into town to get supplies for the clean-up. Hey, I wonder what that fog is, says David’s wife. Not sure, David says. Bye Mommy, David’s son Billy (Nathan Gamble) says as he gets in the truck to head to town with his dad and Brent.

Bye Mommy, indeed.

Once at the grocery store, David and Brent find dozens of people joining them in their quest for refrigerated items (the town has lost power) and other necessities.
Something’s in the mist, yells Dan Miller (Jeffrey DeMunn) as he comes screaming into the grocery store just ahead of the fast-moving mist rolling over the parking lot. A shout from the far end of the parking lot convinces the store employees to pull the door shut and they and the townspeople watch as the mist envelops the store.

Hours later, David and Billy have found a small group to hang out with in the aisles of the store including Irene (Frances Sternhagen), an older teacher, and Amanda (Laurie Holden), a younger teacher. Soon, Amanda, Irene, Dan, David and store clerk Ollie (Toby Jones) form what you might call — somewhat sarcastically considering the course of events — the realists. As the situation gets more desperate — a bag boy is sucked out of the loading dock by a giant tentacle, another man leaves the store with a rope tied around his waist only to be dragged back to the door with the upper half of his body missing — another group starts to come together, led by Mrs. Carmondy (Marcia Gay Harden), a bitter, Bible-quoting woman who thinks the events are the sign of the apocalypse. Her group — the believers, let’s call them — slowly gains popularity in this grocery microcosm and begins to agree that the creepy things in the mist are a sign of God’s wrath and maybe even that a blood sacrifice will stop all this.

Brent is the leader of a small splinter group — the let’s-get-the-hell-out-of-here-ists. How successful they are depends on how desperate you think you’d be to escape the clutches of a religious nutbar who’s decided that she’s “God’s vessel.”

I can’t really go into more about this movie without giving too much away — it’s the kind of movie that is much more about the slow reveal of the creepy and the spooky than about what those things actually are. On paper, many of this movie’s plot points or characters might seem limp or even a little goofy. But as the movie plays out, we get far more watchable moments than boring ones. The movie cares a lot more about the freak-out than it does about the silly “why” and thankfully when the choice is between the action and the story, the film always picks the action.

Not to say that this movie doesn’t leave you thinking. Despite the blue-state, red-state nature of the religious conflict, the movie seems to come down on the side of large trucks and carrying lots of guns and particularly ammo. And, rather than pick apart the plot or dwell on the unremarkable dialogue or occasionally half-baked acting, I left the movie weighing the benefits of my Honda (good gas mileage but easily crunchable should it run in to a large man-eating insect of some kind) versus a Hummer (can flatten just about anything but would need regular fill-ups, a potential impossibility in the post-apocalyptic world). Who says Stephen King doesn’t tackle the big issues? B-

Rated R for violence, terror and gore, and language. Written and directed by Frank Darabont from a short story by Stephen King, The Mist is two hours and five minutes long and is distributed in wide release by MGM.