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The Mist’ is average

By Sam Potter

“The Mist”Dimension FilmsWritten and directed by Frank Darabont (“The Shawshank Redemption”, “The Green Mile”), based on the short story by Stephen King

Starring Thomas Jane, Marcia Gay Harden, Laurie Holden and Toby JonesRated R/127 minutesTwo out of four stars

Of all the authors whose books have been transformed for the silver screen, Stephen King has to be one of the most tapped resources. From “Carrie” to this year’s fantastic sleeper “1408,” King has supplied us with numerous stories of the extreme ends of the human condition and has given movie-goers some respite from “gore-no” slashers, such as “Hostel” or the dreadfully stupid and interminable “Saw” franchise. Granted, the films based on King’s stories vary in quality, but at heart there is always the gesture toward plot and story over visual excess.

For many, no director has managed to channel King’s vision as well as director Frank Darabont. Darabont’s feature debut “The Shawshank Redemption” and sophomore effort “The Green Mile” (both King adaptations) were rich stories about characters who, when faced with overwhelming adversity, found new levels of perseverance, humanity and kindness.

In other words, the characters had heart.

With his latest film, “The Mist,” Darabont has taken one huge leap backward. Although “The Mist” maintains a strong visual sense and precise pacing, Darabont’s knack for dialogue, directing actors and crafting believable characters is glaringly absent. Instead, he has replaced them with leaden performances from his leads, laughably clichéd lines and events and a cold, heartless center that leaves one wondering exactly what to take from the whole experience.

David Drayton (Thomas Jane) is a statuesque painter living in a quiet fishing town in Maine. A nasty storm hits, making a mess of Drayton’s neighborhood and bringing with it an ominous fog that begins to cover the town. In need of supplies to fix his damaged house, Drayton takes his young son and curmudgeon neighbor (Andre Braugher) into town. No sooner have they begun to peruse the aisles of the town grocery store, when an elderly townsman bursts in, drenched in blood, screaming, “There’s something in the mist.”

Perplexed, the townspeople are slow to believe until they themselves are attacked by giant tentacled monsters and overgrown bugs. Several of the townspeople hole up in the store and factions begin to form, one led by the level-headed Drayton and the other by Mrs. Carmody (Marcia Gay Harden), a fanatical, hypocritical bible-thumper who is quick to anoint herself as the mouthpiece for God’s will. The citizens ultimately must decide to either venture out and attempt escape or see if they can stay put long enough without driving one another mad.

Darabont does his best to breathe depth into a clichéd premise: He wants us to see that the real terror doesn’t come from supernatural threats, but from human nature. Unfortunately, this theme has been done before and in much better films, such as Danny Boyle’s “28 Days Later.”

One of Darabont’s problems is that his characters read as cartoons rather than archetypes. Harden’s Mrs. Carmody is forged from every right-wing, fanatical Christian stereotype in an attempt to say what, exactly? That anyone practicing Christianity is a bigoted, hypocritical, blood-sucking, judgmental and cultish freak?

Those whom she “converts” seem to be more full of some crazed disease than of hope and faith. Equally ridiculous is Drayton, who glares, looks tough, says a few smart-ass remarks, makes promises to his son that he knows he can’t keep and becomes the leader for no visible reason other than he is the best looking of the bunch. He’s an action hero, not a person. He has no visible belief system to combat the lunatic Christians. In all of these instances, Darabont sidesteps opportunities to examine humanity, existence and moral systems, something that made his earlier films so memorable and hard-hitting.

The one thing that almost redeems Darabont, however, is an ending more shocking, ironic and disturbing than I have seen in years. Suffice it to say that when I called the film cold and heartless, I meant it. It’s a chiller.

Poor Laurie Holden…such a talent, such a beauty. When will she get a decent vehicle?

In the end, “The Mist” ultimately misses an opportunity to bring something original to the warmed-over survival horror genre. Take your ticket money and go rent “1408” instead.

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