The first two times Frank Darabont adapted and directed a story by Stephen King — “The Shawshank Redemption” and “The Green Mile” — the results were dramatically compelling and duly acclaimed, but they didn’t leave you tensed up and terrified in your seat.
They weren’t trying to. “The Mist” is, and it succeeds beautifully.
It’s a reflection of both men’s horror roots — in the late ’80s, Darabont wrote the remake of “The Blob,” the third “Nightmare on Elm Street” movie and “The Fly II,” and King ... well, you know who he is — but it’s also a welcome return to the kind of subtle, slowly building scares we don’t see anymore in this overly graphic age of torture porn.
In bringing to the screen King’s 1980 short story about a deadly mist that engulfs an insular Maine town, Darabont makes masterful use of silence and stripped-down, documentary-style camerawork that naturally places you in the middle of the action. (It’s a visual style he borrowed from directing an episode of the powerful TV police drama “The Shield”; he also borrowed the show’s director of photography, Rohn Schmidt.)
For those of you who know the story, he’s also changed the ending, making it less vague and more devastating. But we’re getting ahead of ourselves now.
Thomas Jane, Marcia Gay Harden, Andre Braugher and Toby Jones are among the residents trapped in a supermarket when the mist hits, bringing with it some dazzlingly dangerous creatures. Perhaps its origin is a bit too facile, too overtly symbolic, but the way it breaks the characters down to their most fundamental traits, exposing them at their ugliest and bravest, is a fascinating spectacle to behold.
Jane is a solid everyman as David Drayton, who goes to the grocery store with his young son, Billy (Nathan Gamble), to stock up on supplies after a freak storm knocks out the power and causes a tree to crash through the family house. Everyone else is there, too, having found themselves in the same vulnerable situation; even David’s next-door neighbor, a hotshot lawyer played by Braugher, has gotten a ride into town with him, despite their long-standing feud.
That spirit of teamwork serves them all well when the mist rolls in — at first, that is. They know it’s ominous and mysterious and they’ve heard reports that at least one person has been seriously injured because of it. Only in time does its full wrath become obvious. As one employee puts it with humorous understatement, “It appears we may have a problem of some magnitude.”
Store manager Ollie (Jones, who played Truman Capote so convincingly in “Infamous”) tries to calm people down, but Harden’s freaky, shrieky religious fanatic, Mrs. Carmody, is more adept at grabbing their attention with her prophecies of biblical revenge and doom. People think she’s nuts at first — one old lady hurls a can of peas at her — but as the situation grows dire, she finds herself holding increasing sway — and liking it. (Harden’s performance will elicit a visceral reaction, that’s how good she is.)
To say much more would be to deny you the riveting revelations that are in store. Yes, something is in the mist. Lots of things are in the mist. They’re gorgeous and frightening and strange and elaborately detailed, and the effects used to create them allow them to blend in seamlessly with the live action.
They’ll make you jump, all right. Quite a few times. But it’s what the humans to do each other that’s more likely to shake you to your core.