By now you've probably seen the trailer a hundred times where a bleeding man comes stumbling into a grocery store screaming, "There's something in the mist!" The same guy could have stumbled onto a boat in Jaws and said, "There's something in the water!" So yes, The Mist isn't exactly breaking into new territory plot-wise: it's a monster movie at heart, although unlike classic monster fare like Jaws or The Thing, The Mist shows us a lot more of the monster(s).
The Mist marks the fourth time that director Frank Darabont has turned one of prolific horror writer Stephen King's short stories into a film, and you think he'd have it down to an art form after directing The Shawshank Redemption and The Green Mile. However The Mist represents a rare misstep for the Darabont/King moviemaking machine, though it does make for good grossout eye candy.
The film centers around David Drayton (Thomas Jane), who lives with his wife Stephanie and 11-year-old son Billy in a small Maine town and makes his living painting movie posters for Hollywood. During the opening scene, there's a self-referential nod as Drayton appears to be painting a poster for King's series The Dark Towers, complete with Clint Eastwood as Roland of Gilead. When Stephen King movies start having in-joke nods to other Stephen King books, we hear the faint revving sounds of a motorcycle preparing to jump a shark somewhere.
A storm hits that night, smashing through David's studio window and wreaking general havoc. Just before he and some neighbors head into town to get supplies, they notice a thick white mist spilling over the lake from the direction of the nearby Army base. And as they drive to town, they encounter several Army vehicles leaving at high speed in the opposite direction. After getting trapped in a mist-surrounded grocery store with all the phones out and hazy giant things bashing on the doors, the guys start to get the idea that maybe something's gone wrong over at the old Army base.
The film (just like the novella) then devolves into a fire and brimstone battle in the grocery store, with Mrs. Carmody (Marcia Gay Harden) calling this the "end of days" and telling everyone that god is raining down his retribution upon them. True, she sounds like a nutjob at first, but that first night enormous bugs begin landing on the glass windows, and it isn't much longer before giant pterodactyl-like creatures smash their way in and people start getting picked off left and right.
After they fight off this invasion, more and more people start believing Mrs. Carmody, and soon she is running the whole show, except for David and his lone band of holdouts. For a moment, the film hovers between fantasy and science fiction — will it turn out that this is a Satanic invasion, like in that forgettable movie with Hilary Swank? Finally, we discover that this isn't a supernatural occurrence after all. A bawling army private (Sam Witwer) confesses to Mrs. Carmody that the scientists at the army base were building a window into other dimensions, and that something must have gone wrong. Score one for science.
In an interesting move, Garabont makes us believe that Mrs. Carmody and her bible-beating are more dangerous than whatever awaits our heroes outside in the mist. Trapped between an evangelical and a bunch of Cthulhu creatures, David chooses monsters. We won't spoil the ending here, but it is very different than the one in the novella.
The main problem with the film is that the it is very clumsy and heavy-handed at times, clunking you over the head with an onslaught of stereotypes: the religious woman, the country bumpkins, the young lover, the "good father" and so on. Readers of King's fiction will already be familiar with these characters, but the introduction of multiple characters all in the same setting jumbles everything together. Plus the film's claustrophobic setting inside the store requires more complex characters to keep us watching. You soon find yourself longing for anyone to run outside and get eaten, just for a change of scenery.
Very Important Monster Rating: The larger monsters aren't displayed in very much detail, although there are plenty of closeups with the smaller ones. We would have loved a couple of solid looks at some of those big suckers.