The Mist opens on a dark and stormy night in Castle Rock, Maine, in the home of a book-cover artist (Thomas Jane) whose horror, fantasy, and sci-fi images cover his living room. If you've read much Stephen King, you sense the author's presence even if you haven't seen the Stephen King's appendage on the film's title.
For a while, The Mist, adapted from a novella at the end of his '80s-era story collection Skeleton Crew, seems like it's going to be a pretty good King adaptation.
The bad storm wrecks the artist's house, so father and son head into town to stock up on supplies, getting trapped in a grocery store with an assortment of stock townsfolk while a mist enshrouds the store and rumors swirl of unseen dangers.
An entertaining, low-key cast fills out the broadly drawn collection of refugees — the hot checkout girl, the existentialist bagger, three soldiers from a nearby military base, a Bible-thumping town loon, a couple of rough-edged blue-collar guys, etc.
Into this familiar set-up, King and director Frank Darabont (of prestige King adaptations The Green Mile and The Shawshank Redemption) conspire on something that's half monster movie and half nature-of-man talkfest. An octopus-like creature sucks a bloodied Norm the Bag Boy out into the mist. The ensuing in-store conflict pits fundamentalists against rationalists against existentialists.
But, despite that bid for significance, The Mist is at its best as a gee-wow horror/action movie: Pterodactyl-like creatures break through the glass and invade the store, warded off with makeshift weapons (and one revolver) created from store items. Jane's protagonist leads an expedition through the fog to the drug store next door, which is enshrouded with webbing from a breed of spiders that would have scared away anything from Arachnophobia.
Darabont isn't satisfied with making a minor pleasure, though, so he turns the film into a major monstrosity, with an ending that made me angrier than anything I saw at the movies this year. I never read The Mist as a kid King fan (one of the few King titles of the era I skipped), but I skimmed the end of the book recently to see if King himself was to blame. He wasn't.
Unsatisfied with King's open-ended conclusion, The Mist tacks on an extreme ending (which I won't give away, though I'm tempted), more worthy of an ironic Eli Roth horror movie than the middling creature-feature The Mist actually is. There's something smug, pretentious, and self-congratulatory about the utter pessimism and cruelty of the ending. It might have worked in a better, more severe movie, but it angered me here because I didn't think the movie earned it. Or maybe even because the movie — or at least its actors — actually earned better.