It's hard to believe that Frank Darabont, director and adapting screenwriter of The Mist, is the same man who directed The Shawshank Redemption only 13 years ago-or, for that matter, the lesser but still esteemed The Green Mile a mere eight years ago. Dabbling in television hasn't done the filmmaker any favors, and his latest effort all but screams "Made for TV."
The story is simple enough: A bleeding, screaming man ducks into a grocery store just before a heavy fog surrounds it, babbling to his fellow shoppers that he saw "something" in the mist. An unbeliever or two promptly bite the dust after a flippant exit, stirring up fear among their surviving counterparts, and then the real trouble begins when some of the unwelcome guests get inside the store and pick off a few more superfluous cast members. But the prisoners eventually find more to fear from each other, as a mob mentality begins gathering momentum.
As a general rule, the worse the scripted dialogue, the better the actors have to be to deliver it convincingly. Bad actors can't make bad dialogue work, and The Mist is rife with both. Darabont opted for quantity rather than quality, cluttering the screen with dozens of flat characters, so what's the big deal when a few yokels get eaten/stung/burned/stabbed? They're bland at best and insufferable at worst, and the best moment in the movie proves to be one of their deaths.
Horror fans beware: The Mist is long, slow, and not particularly scary. With a running time of 127 minutes, and an awkward, ambling gait, it's no roller coaster. It's also talky for a thriller, with a great deal of bickering and pontificating. Where's the haunting, shivery ambiance? Or even a claustrophobic feeling of entrapment? Instead there's a lot of cheap-looking animation and special effects reminiscent of 1950s creature features. To be fair, the second half successfully ratchets up the intensity, and eventually gets around to achieving its goal: a bleak commentary on humanity's own frightening animalism. But it takes a hell of a long time to get there.
While Darabont might have seemed a likely candidate to adapt yet another Stephen King book, the stark truth is that this is his first wobbly shot at a thriller, and it shows. He's historically made drawn, deliberate dramas (as anyone who fell asleep watching The Majestic knows) and just doesn't have the expertise to create what The Mist so desperately needs: atmosphere. Clearly having skipped Suspense 101, he's forgotten the first rule: What's off screen is always scarier than what's on screen. If you're looking for terror, skip The Mist and watch The Shining for the 20th time. It'll still be spookier.