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The Mist ***
Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Rossiter Drake*

Thomas Jane (center) braves a harrowing journey through Stephen King's treacherous Mist.

(Courtesy of San Francisco Examiner)

Starring: Thomas Jane, Marcia Gay Harden, Laurie Holden, Toby Jones, William Sadler. Rated R.

Stephen King’s The Mist is an experience not easily shaken, one that lingers long after the closing credits, if not for all the right reasons. It is the rare horror film that doubles convincingly as a meditation on the savagery of the human heart – a Lord of the Flies-style fable set not on a remote island but at the local supermarket. For nearly two hours, it moves at a dizzying pace, breathlessly exploring the nightmarish depths of a world overrun by demons. In the end, though, The Mist runs out of steam, collapsing beneath the weight of its own cynicism.

It begins innocently enough, as a thick, foglike cloud rolls in from the mountains, shrouding a storm-ravaged Maine village in a seemingly impenetrable haze. This is no ordinary mist, of course – it is a smokescreen, obscuring a host of flesh-hungry monsters (complete with fangs, tentacles and razor-sharp stingers) who have wandered into our dimension straight from the pits of hell. That spells trouble for the feisty locals trapped in the downtown food mart, including David (Thomas Jane), his son Billy (Nathan Gamble), and Amanda (Laurie Holden), the sultry schoolteacher who trusts in the basic goodness of mankind.

She soon learns better. As the crowd begins to develop cabin fever over the course of 48 harrowing hours, rival factions begin to emerge – those led by David, who want to drive to freedom, and those led by a sermonizing zealot (Marcia Gay Harden, in a deliciously venomous turn), who would prefer to sacrifice David and his gang of non-believers to the bloodthirsty bugs lurking menacingly in the mist.

Adapted from one of King’s early novellas by Frank Darabont, who previously directed The Shawshank Redemption and The Green Mile, The Mist is a classic monster movie turned morality play, and for a while it works on both counts. Its heroes are nothing if not human – even their best-laid plans are riddled with near-fatal flaws. It is with giddy pleasure that we witness the supermarket set’s rapid descent into hysteria, as Darabont’s four-legged bogeymen prepare to feast.

King recently boasted that The Mist features “the most shocking ending ever,” and he might be right. It is a needlessly bleak conclusion that somehow rings false, and while some have praised Darabont’s willingness to eschew the traditional happy ending, few seem to have divined any meaning from his dreary denouement. It would be tempting to say that The Mist suffers a rapid descent of its own into abject nihilism, but it clearly believes at least one thing – that man is, at heart, a weak-minded beast, as much a threat to himself as any monster could ever be.

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