One of Stephen King’s more enjoyable works, “The Mist” novella gets an quite loyal but only moderately effective film adaptation in Frank Darabont’s low-budget effort. The dated feel of the material, some odd filmmaking choices, and a decidedly different ending robs the story of some of its inherent suspense and enjoyment.
Film adaptations of Stephen King’s works are famously problematic, the few success stories like “The Shining,” “Stand By Me,” “Misery” or Darabont’s own “The Shawshank Redemption” have used his most human and reality-driven tales as their basis. Yet King’s best works merge both his talent for exploring the human condition and his imaginative horror driven elements of Lovecraftian monsters and supernatural killers.
‘The Mist’ worked so well as a story because not only did it have both elements, but its novella length allowed it to avoid King’s trademark weakness of overwriting and overstuffing his books. The good news is Darabont stays not only very loyal to the book, every key scene that I can remember from it is in here, but he actually adds a bit more to explain some deliberately murky elements.
Gone is the admittedly useless sex scene, added is tad more about what happened at the Arrowhead project, a fun ‘Dark Tower’ reference for King fans, expanded and more visceral attacks by the creatures, and a divisive new finale which dumps the original work’s “The Birds” style hopeful open-ending for a surprisingly morbid and depressing final twist. It’s this ending, the one big departure from the text, which takes what comes before it to a cruel place that seems more ego-driven than artistically warranted (King at least understood that a sliver of hope lies in the heart of every true cynic) .
Still, Darabont generally understands what works and what doesn’t in King’s story and makes the best of what he can – his few changes only spell out stuff that was better left deliberately vague in book form but need to be highlighted in a movie. His filmmaking choices also yield some wildly fluctuating results – the handheld camera technique and lack of musical score are strengths, the production values are solid too, but the decidedly weak CGI renders some sequences – most notably the tentacle attack in the early scenes – almost laughably bad. Its the more practical effects moments, and the vague shapes in the distance of the mist, that prove far more effective.
Also not helping sadly is the sheer fact that the material is somewhat dated. Penned almost three decades ago, the film has been a long time coming and the interim we’ve seen other films use similar ideas (most notably “The Fog” and its awful remake). Whilst the tension, monsters and closed environment aspects remain fresh – the characters more than ever seem like caricatures of country yokels and hard-core religious zealots, most notably Mrs. Carmody who proves the old adage that it doesn’t matter what the faith, all true believers are nutters.
The cast is solid all round, Thomas Jane doing well as the doting dad (only in the final moments does some over acting clip through). Laurie Holden as the one real normal voice of reason delivers impressively natural work, whilst Toby Jones has a fun role as a shopkeeper with a vital role. William Sadler and Marcia Gay Harden as a dumb hick and the aforementioned Mrs. Carmody get to enjoyably chew the scenery, whilst Andre Braugher, Jeffrey DeMunn and Frances Sternhagen lend strong support.
At two hours its Darabont’s shortest film, but it still feels long. As a great fan of the original work, one can’t help but be both disappointed and elated. For the most part Darabont has adapted the work exactly as one would’ve hoped, and despite some shoddy effects and off pacing at times, King’s great story still shines through and makes much of the film’s runtime a fun and gripping experience. The new ending, despite it being a slap in the face to fans, will long be remembered for its sheer darkness and daring. If ‘Shawshank’ was his optimistic celebration of human spirit, ‘The Mist’ is his pessimistic testament to the darkness of the human soul.