As one of what novelist Stephen King calls his Constant Readers, I was as jazzed as every other monster-lovin' geek when word came that filmmaker Frank Darabont was making a movie of King's classic novella, The Mist. After all, Darabont's two previous King adaptations, The Shawshank Redemption (1994) and The Green Mile (1999), brought the writer-director three Oscar nominations.
Why, then, is The Mist such a disaster? How did a straightforward little tale about prehistoric monsters gobbling down the hapless citizens of a modern-day town become such a lumbering and depressing movie?
Man-eaters hide out in a weirdly thick fog that's settled over Castle Rock, Maine, after an unusually violent storm. With the power out, book-jacket artist David Drayton (Thomas Jane, subtle and strong) leaves his wife at home and heads into town with his nine-year-old son (Nathan Gamble) to buy supplies. As they wait in a long grocery-store checkout line, a bloodied man (Jeffrey DeMunn) runs in, screaming, "There's something in the mist!" Soon, giant eel-like tentacles slip under the loading-dock door and drag away Norm the bag boy, a gruesome sight that only Drayton and three others witness. Neither King nor Darabont explains just why the dozens of other people inside the store can't hear the kid's bloodcurdling screams, but in any case, it falls to Drayton to convince the skeptical customers that there's danger in that thar mist.
What follows is a lot of crying and speechifying, and not nearly enough people-eating. At just over two hours, The Mist is the shortest movie Darabont has made, and it's still too long. Less talk, more monster, please. There are two terrific attack sequences, one of which finds Drayton jabbing a string mop dipped in lighter fluid at flying pterodactyls as they dive for humans on aisle three. Later, he leads an exploratory mission to the drugstore next door, only to encounter massive spiders that shoot acidic webs.
Good stuff, but a clue to what's ultimately awry in this movie can be found in that drugstore sequence. A retired schoolteacher, played by the great Frances Sternhagen, comes face to face with an eight-legged freak, and rather than screaming, she sets it on fire with a lighter and a can of bug spray. Now, an old lady zapping a giant spider with a can of Black Flag is the kind of detail that makes Stephen King fun to read, but Darabont lets the moment (and others like it) rush past, as if bug humor is a bit beneath him.
All this would be disappointing, but not infuriating, if the film's ending weren't so unforgivably bad. Darabont abruptly abandons his master's text in the movie's final minutes, sending Drayton and his little boy a plot twist that wouldn't be fair to reveal, but which is so distasteful and untrue to all that's come before, it's a slap in the face to characters and audience alike. In the end, The Mist made me want to scream, but for all the wrong reasons.