I saw a couple of trailers for The Mist, based on the Stephen King novel of the same title, and I was wandering through the bookstore a few months ago and thought that I’d give it a read. I found it gripping, interesting, and ultimately satisfying, as I find many of King’s novels.
Since I’m a firm believer in the ancient principle that a movie will always be worse than the book it is based on, I wasn’t expecting much when today I rented The Mist. But I wasn’t quite prepared for just how bad it is.
For the first three-quarters of this two-hour (two-hour!) movie, the plot sticks very close to the plot of the novel: a strange mist descends on a town, trapping a bunch of terrified people in a grocery store. Horrible things come out of the mist and do horrible things to the people. Classic Stephen King.
Given that the plot is interesting and psychological — two things you don’t see in movies these days — you might wonder how it would be possible to screw it up. Let me give you a list of good ways, although I might make director Frank Darabont angry, since he’s really the one that came up with these:
- Atrocious dialogue. At times, it was so clumsy that I actually cringed. They took some directly from the novel, but not all of it, and the clash between the dialogue written by King and the dialogue added by the filmmakers is painfully obvious.
- Flat characters. They should be moving. They should be sympathetic. They should be interesting. But they’re not. They feel like, to use an old phrase, cardboard cutouts, which makes it especially jarring when, in a rare moment of good acting, they express genuine-looking emotion.
- They explain the mist. This is a mistake that most modern horror films make: either they explain who created the monster and how, or they tell you what’s making the zombies crazy, or something like that. The only two horror films I’ve seen where that’s been pulled off competently are 28 Days Later and I am Legend. One of the keys to the creepiness of King’s book was that they gave vague hints as to what happened, but they never actually told you. That’s always way creepier than actually coming out and saying it, which The Mist does with the same habitual clumsiness with which it does things.
- The ending is incredibly depressing. I’ll try not to ruin it for you (anyway, Darabont already did that for me), but suffice to say that, even though it’s meant to seem bleak, gritty, real, and painful, it comes across as needlessly cruel, sadistic, and depressing. So, so depressing. Now, I’ll give Darabont credit where credit is due for creating an ending that is something we haven’t often seen before, but there is a point at which a depressing ending will puke all over the entertainment value of the rest of the movie. Darabont reaches that point, pays no heed, and keeps going, until he reaches the point known only as “Mass suicide in the movie theater.”
Now, I do have more than bilious hatred to spew about The Mist. I do enjoy tearing a bad movie to shreds, but I can’t do that with every aspect of the film. For one thing, the special effects are as incredible as anything you’ll see today. The mist feels real, and the filmmakers know when to use computer-generated mist and when to use an actual fog machine. The creatures are not only fairly faithful to King’s description, but they’re also suitably creepy. Even some of the scenes they made up and threw in there are fairly grotesque in a good way, the kind of good way that makes people want to watch horror films. As I said above, the ending, while depressing, is at least fairly daring. And Darabont, some of the time, keeps very close to King’s original idea.
But that last point actually becomes a problem at times. Nobody expects any film based on a book to stay close to the original storyline and dialogue. At least not as close as Darabont stays. I’ve been hoping for a long time to see a movie that was really just a visual version of a book, but now I see the error of my ways. If every book-direct-to-movie adaptation is as contrived and clumsy as this, then I’d rather see the director change what needs to be changed.
And even though he stays painfully close to the original story sometimes, at other times, he deviates shamelessly, wandering off into irrelevant or story-crippling (see bullet point #3 above) tangents, adding things that needn’t be added (gratuitous unnecessary gore, and in all the wrong places, too), and subtracting things that he probably should have kept (that hazy, panic-induced, shocked sex scene between the main character and the girl comes to mind). But probably the most painful loss is the feeling of panic, the feeling of dread, and that sense that everybody is slowly starting to break down and go mad. King does this very well. Darabont doesn’t do it at all until very near the end, when suddenly it was as though someone slapped him on the back of the head.
One final note. In the book, Mrs. Carmody, the religious lunatic, was more of a shriveled old bat, a hag with little more to do than play with her stuffed raccoons, read tabloids, and babble about the state of the world. But in the film, she’s about thirty years old, and delivers all of her lines with a kind of sickening melodrama not seen since the Wicked Witch of the West menaced Dorothy.
All in all, a bad movie. It has its good moments, but in the end, it’s far too clumsily-executed to be interesting, and long enough to make you feel like you’ve wasted a good chunk of your life. If you’ve read the book, don’t bother seeing the movie. And if you’ve seen the movie, I’m sorry, but Frank Darabont has already ruined the book for you.
* ` ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ (1.5/10 asterisks)