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The Mist

Director: Frank Darabont
Starring: Thomas Jane, Marcia Gay Harden

The Mist is a distilled masters seminar in Bad Movie. The first thing you notice is that Thomas Jane is terrible. The second thing you notice is, the dialogue is absolutely appalling, just flat and lifeless and painfully overloaded with clumsy exposition, and there’s not a damn thing the actors, even the good ones, can do about it.

The third thing you’ll notice is that the guy who wrote and directed it appears to have no idea how to make a good film. Yet this is Frank Darabont, the guy who adapted and directed the best Stephen King adaptations in the past decade, The Green Mile and Shawshank Redemption. (I am assuming that the way those two films blend into the same warm, fuzzy gee-whiz prison movie is more my problem than the films’.) Seriously, based on the strength of this offering, I’d like to pass a law forbidding Darabont from seeing movies, much less make them, but based on his past successes, I’m willing call this an aberration and let him go with a warning.

It’s sort of a horror movie, right? So how does it deliver the requisite horror thrills? This film is mostly about tension, it’s about fearing what’s in the mystery mist that descends upon a small New England town, more than it’s about what actually comes out of that fog. Oh, stuff comes out, don’t you worry, and it’s as creepy as the bug-lovin’ CGI crew could invent. But there are no jump-out-of-your-seat moments, and if Darabont is trying to play up the creepy belly-of-the-beast scenes, he’s just got no idea at all how to be scary. (Hint for the future, Frank: Don’t kill so many cast members off-screen, by just abandoning them, like you can’t be bothered to wrap things up.)

What Darabount is good at is crappy exposition, in which characters very stiffly discuss who each other is, or what’s going on, to make sure the viewer isn’t missing anything. When the cast starts going all Lord of the Flies in the supermarket where the fogmonsters have them cornered, you get cast members earnestly explaining how people are no damned good and society is a thin veneer that cracks the minute things go wrong and thanks for explaining your delightfully misanthropic philosophy in case we stupid viewers couldn’t figure it out in action, Frank.

What does not suck about this movie: Marcia Gay Harden, as an Old Testament religious zealot, starts out as a shrill, movie-killing harridan but, without changing a note, becomes fascinating as the film wears on and provides its central point: People suck. That’s the real monster in this movie, not the Lovecraftian horrors lurking out in the fog. It’s the cast, trapped in a supermarket by the fog monsters, going all Lord of the Flies that’s the dominant horror. It’s a shame Darabont doesn’t do something more with this than hang it on such badly drawn characters.

Also, from about halfway through to the climax, before the film falls under the weight of its own ineptitude, you’re past most of the crap dialogue and clunky direction and into a kind of fascinating high-stakes nightmare that is arguably halfway ept. Until Darabont takes it insanely over the top, ruining a nice twist horror ending that would’ve been terrific if it has been handled low-key, in keeping with the rest of the movie. But in the end, it’s all over-the-top, with giant monsters, soldiers and survivors and operatic music in which chanting voices, like Enya scoring The Exorcist, literally drown out the human moment, which is also lost in a sea of tremendous, stunning overacting.

This is a grindhouse horror flick with none of the glee or shamelessness that makes that genre nominally attractive. There’s a reason it doesn’t have the A-list actors of Darabont’s previous adaptations. If you like good acting, good writing, thrills, horror or movies, your best bet is to wait for The Mist to come out on DVD … and then rent something else.