Stephen King movie adaptations have an uneven history, delivering films as far apart in quality as The Shining and Sleepwalkers. The general rule you can learn from this contrast is that the more liberties the director takes with the source material, the better a Stephen King movie adaptation is. When in the hands of a director willing to find his own way through the story, the difference is as great as between Kubrick’s The Shining and Cronenberg’s The Dead Zone when contrasted with the TV adaptations of The Shining or The Last Stand.
Frank Darabont however sticks pretty closely to the novella of The Mist up until the ending and its gruesome twist. He does introduce a greater role for the military portraying the soldiers as human beings and even victims, something Stephen King who is still stuck in a hippie mindset in which soldiers are demons from hell and evil (e.g. The Long Walk, The Stand, Dreamcatcher) is incapable of doing. Darabont’s Mist builds on the strength of The Mist novella, but it’s less about the monsters outside, than about how the people inside react to the coming of the mist.
Thomas Jane manages to sail through David Drayton, though he fumbles some of the atmospheric ‘horror movie’ lines about the Mist. Andre Braugher is completely miscast as Brent Norton, the arrogant lawyer neighbor of the novella. He’s too likable too early on to fit the part of the obnoxious lawyer who narrowmindedly refuses to accept the reality of the mist outside. Laurie Holden is miscast, only because she can’t act and delivers half her lines with a smirk or a sneer. Marcia Gay Harden goes all out as Mrs Carmody, but where the original Mrs. Carmody was a sinister old woman, Harden’s Carmody is a stereotypical middle aged religious fanatic inspired by a liberal watching Jesus Camp, rather than the kind of old woman people used to burn as witches. Preachy yes, scary no.
Frank Darabont does a good job of handling the suspense involved, the creatures are generally almost as nasty as they are in the novella and the creature effects are pretty good, barring the clearly CGI tentacles at the loading dock and the botched giant creature on the road. The human drama is at the core of the story and the casting of the ordinary townsfolk is pretty good. The pharmacy scene is appropriately horrific but the editing makes it too confusing in places ruining the suspense. The scene of Drayton and his passengers driving by the supermarket and everyone trapped inside is a fantastic moment and good enough to be the ending. Unfortunately it isn’t.
For better or worse Darabont chooses a Lord of the Flies ending that moves from a mass suicide to the revelation that the army has saved the day and he has killed his family for nothing. It’s certainly the gruesome shock ending Stephen King promised us and presumably it’s supposed to make us think, but an ending that completely devalues the characters’ journey is also a bad ending because it jettisons any real reason to care about what went before. As the ending now tells us, all Drayton really had to do was keep quiet, keep his head down and he and his son would have gotten rescued. And is that really the message Darabont wants to send?