Friday, September 13, 2013

THE MIST: Blu-ray (Dimension 2007) Dimension Home Video

Unable to figure out whether he is paying homage to Hitchcock’s one-set ensembles, the traditional horror/sci-fi flick or just indulging in some Freudian sexual sadism with a pseudo-religious nod to the end of the world, director Frank Darabont has taken another inconsequential novella by Stephen King and transformed it into a rank and very bloody gumbo for The Mist (2007); an emasculated scare fest that quickly degenerates into a military experiment gone horribly wrong with the body count exponentially rising as the minutes wear on. The whole thing is a waste of time, two hours of my life I can never get back, and basically cribbing – okay, ripping off – every horror cliché mashed together. Whether it’s the tentacle-laden It Came From Beneath the Sea (1955), victims woven into a spider’s web (The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King 2003), or creatures bursting forth from somebody’s intestines (Aliens, anyone?) we are treated to a B-budget/B-grade bunk peddled without a shred of fecund originality. Let’s just get the most obvious stolen moment out of the way; ‘there’s something in the mist’ a thinly veiled retread of ‘there’s something in the fog’…a la John Carpenter.
I am not going to spend a lot of time on this one because frankly, I could feel my I.Q. incrementally dropping as I continued to watch supposedly panic-stricken common folk go all bad-ass, then mental; then bad-ass and mental simultaneously; ineffectually battling their way through darkly lit halls at their local Piggly Wiggly while defiantly lashing out at each other and a litany of giant bugs; spiders, mosquitoes, flies, giant-sized tentacle-clad amoeba and some winged creatures with pelican beaks that vaguely reminded me of what could happen if you cross a crack pipe with Dragon’s Lair (1983) then feed the entire mess through Seth Brundle’s teleportation chamber from Cronenberg’s remake of The Fly (1986).  

Honestly, can we just get back to the basics: a horror movie with one convincingly scary creature? I say, scary, because the CGI generated ‘things’ crawling out of the mist are not all that frightening or convincingly rendered for that matter; just repulsive and intermittently grotesque. The spiders, as example, shoot a few of their hapless human victims in the mouth with their gooey web strings. A giant mosquito stings Alexa Davalos in the neck until her throat swells shut and she inflates like a purple puffer fish. Ho-hum, now I’m bored and grossed out at the same time.
Darabont, a director I used to admire, ought to have known better then to attempt such a pedestrian mangling as this in the first place. The mist shrouds a small coastal New England conclave after a violent thunderstorm. Herein, Darabont has taken a page from the Hitchcock/John Carpenter playbook; ergo – never explain your unexplained phenomena. So far, so good. But he gives away the mystery midway when Sam Witwer’s cringing military private – reduced to Jell-o after his girlfriend takes one in the neck and his two cohorts are left swinging from the rafters by their own hand (cowards!) – spews utter nonsense about a nearby military outpost dappling in some existential/time-space continuum claptrap with a hint of mystic porthole to another dimension jargon thrown in because…what the hell?…at this point author King/director Darabont and the entire cast are grasping at straws and hopelessly mired in hyperbole and cliché.
To those used to reading more literary prose on this blog I must apologize beforehand. When I feel a movie is treating the audience as idiot children educated with an air-hose and an inner tube I feel the need to vent. This is one of those occasions. The Mist is nothing like a good horror movie and – no kidding – not the way anyone should spend their Friday night. It excels at insulting the intellect, at dulling the senses and at doling out equal portions of vial violence and people behaving stupidly with such unabashed frequency that it truly disregards the audience – even in its most base attempt: to entertain us. If you are one of the few who find this sort of garbage even mildly amusing I would like to invite you to my garage while I smash a few rather large spiders with a sledgehammer before setting fire to some over-sized vermin with a blowtorch. And no…this isn’t my idea of Friday night kicks either!
So, here goes. Commercial movie poster graphics artist David Drayton (Thomas Jane) – who apparently did the original artwork for John Carpenter’s The Thing (1982) and looks as though he’s currently working on a poster for a remake of The Good The Bad and The Ugly (1966) has the front window of his family home smashed in during a violent thunderstorm. His artwork is toast and so is the tree he once climbed when he was just a boy. David’s wife Stephanie (Kelly Collins Lintz) decides to hang around while Dave and their son Billy (Nathan Gamble) go into town for some fixer upper supplies. But before they leave, David decides to ‘confront’ his caustic neighbor, attorney Brent Norton (Andre Braugher) to swap insurance agent’s telephone numbers to pay for the damage.
Frankly, I don’t know what infuriated me more about this character – that Brent was so obviously a royal pain in the backside or that he so clearly harbored an absolutely vial streak of racism against all white people. Clearly, Darabont missed the first day of his screenwriter’s workshop where they explain when you have no time to flesh out particulars of pointless backstories such as this one then you don’t include needless, pointless, dangling character traits and plot points simply to fill your run time with some liberalized idiocy about fundamentally flawed race relations in America. Moving one: Brent’s Mercedes is totaled. So, after some tight-assed repartee Brent has the audacity to ask David for a lift into town to buy food stuffs too.
The local grocery, managed by cocky Budd (Robert Treveiler) and the bookish Ollie Weeks (Toby Jones) is overcrowded with town’s folk who have the same idea. Everyone’s attracted to the sound of sirens echoing from the nearby military base, followed by a frenetic cavalcade of military vehicles racing past the store. But the patrons are more alarmed when they see one of their own, Dan Miller (Jeffrey DeMunn) fleeing in their direction, bloody-nosed and screeching “there’s something in the fog”…excuse me…“mist!” Moments later the exterior of the store is engulfed in a dense opaque haze – more foggy than misty if you ask me. Dan orders Budd and Ollie to bolt the doors. Given Dan’s disheveled condition, nobody takes him seriously. The power grid suddenly fails and the grocery store is plunged into darkness, the generator kicking in a few moments later.
While local Bible-freak Mrs. Carmody (Marcia Gay Harden, looking rather bloated and utterly wasting her talents) yelps scripture to the confused flock, David comforts Billy who goes from hysterical to catatonic. Following a bad smell from the stockroom, David notices that the generator has begun to overheat. Something is blocking the air exchange. But before David can alert Ollie or Budd something large begins to press up against the heavy steel loading bay door. Given the girth and strength of this behemoth, the ginger way it gently taps against the metal is ridiculous. Ditto for David’s forewarning going unheeded by Jim (William Sadler) and Myron (David Jensen) – a pair of gung-ho yahoos from the nearby mechanic’s garage which should cause mechanics everywhere to take umbrage at the way they’ve been portrayed as dummies who cannot grasp even the most life-threatening of events. You really want these guys to fix your car? Hey, what does it matter if your brakes don’t work…at least the brake light is off!
Jim and Myron goad stock boy, Norm (Chris Owen, thinking he’s Indiana Jones) into crawling up on the roof to open the vent for the generator. David repeatedly forewarns of the foolishness in this endeavor and is treated like a veritable mama’s boy by Jim and Myron who thump their chest while giving their brains a rest – letting the dumb high school dropout take all the chances in their stead. Predictably, the tentacle-beast on the other side decides to make mincemeat out of Norm, hacking into his flesh with needle-shaped spikes before wrapping itself around Norm’s body and head and dragging him kicking and screaming outside. Lunch time…come and get it! David, who tried to save the boy, now grows a pair and decides to get macho on Jim, beating him up until Ollie intervenes. The incredulousness of Jim – he repeatedly apologizes for letting Norm die (gee, that makes it all better) – is frankly despicable. But Brent’s arrogance and condescension a few moments later in refusing to believe David, Jim, Myron or Ollie – whitewashing their account with a “how stupid do you think this black man is?” attitude is a repugnant betrayal, backed by Budd’s willy-nilly shrug off even after David shows them Norm’s trail of blood and the remains of a tentacle he managed to lop off with an axe during the attack. The remnant of whatever attacked and ate Norm disintegrates into a smoldering wet mass when poked with the handle of a mop. Are we scared yet?
Still unconvinced, Brent and a few stupid men venture out into the mist, a local Hell’s Angels biker (Brian Libby) agreeing to follow along behind them and retrieve a twelve gauge hunting rifle from his red pick-up, but only if he is tethered to a rope. A few uneventful moments pass. Then we hear more screams coming out of the mist and a thud. David attempts to pull the biker back. He is successful at retrieving only the bottom half of the man. 

Given the imminent peril everyone suddenly finds themselves in it is pretty laughable what happens next. David leaves Billy in the care of Hattie (Susan Watkins) - a total stranger. Thanks dad! An unidentified woman (Melissa McBride) informs everyone that she has left her eight year old home alone with her baby and that she must return to them. No one, including David, is brave enough to accompany her to her car. So she ventures outside alone, presumably to her death. In the meantime, Sally (Alexa Davalos) confronts pretty boy Private Jessup (Sam Witner) with the utterly contrived “I know you like me so why didn’t we ever get to third base?” conversation in the changing room. But their 'true confessions' vox populi is short lived.
For round two of our supernatural assault materializes in the form of giant mosquitoes who, attracted by the light of a few well-placed kerosene lanterns, suddenly attach themselves to the large front windows of the grocery store and are then attacked and swallowed by some Pterodactyl-winged gargoyles with pelican-shaped beaks that squawk like prehistoric rejects from Jurassic Park before breaking through the glass. One of the mosquitoes stings Sally. She chokes to death on her own vomit before inflating like a Macy’s Thanksgiving parade float. Jessup mourns the girl with ineffectual tears while David and a few of the other frightened patrons, including Amanda Dunfrey (Laurie Holden) turn mops into torches with just a little bit of lighter fluid, whacking at anything – including each other -  but mostly at things that swoops down from the ceiling.
Mrs. Carmody is spared a similar fate as she prays, the terrorized extras taking this as a sign from God that the moment of retribution and repentance is at hand. Having allowed Billy to wander into harm’s way, David now hands over the care of his son to Amanda who spends the rest of the movie tenderly clutching the boy’s head and blatantly lying to him by reassuring Billy that his mother – who stayed home, remember? – is still alive. Oh, the fables we tell our children!  The next morning David gathers some bravely stupid souls including Ollie – who knows how to shoot a gun. They venture to the pharmacy kitty-corner to the grocery store for some badly needed medical supplies. But once inside the small troop quickly discovers Brent and the other men who left the grocery the day before entwined in giant spider webs. Jim gets the fright of his life when Brent comes to life begging to be saved, everyone tearing away at the thick hairy strands of web without first considering what might be between them and Brent. Sure enough, Brent’s skin begins to blister with baby spiders bursting forth from his chest and mouth, their giant-sized parents suddenly crawling out of the woodwork to surround everyone.
David escapes with Ollie and makes his way back to the grocery store. Private Jessup discovers that his two cohorts have hanged themselves in the backroom – presumably out of some deep-seeded guilt - and confesses that the military created a porthole into another dimension at their base camp, the so-called Arrowhead Project. Outraged and prompted by Carmody’s ranting of more Biblical passages, the mob repeatedly wounds and then carries Jessup out beyond the front doors, leaving him to be devoured by a towering creature that vaguely looks like a furry lobster and/or mantis. 

David decides that it is time to get out, electing to take Billy, Amanda, Ollie, Budd, Dan and Irene Reppler (Frances Sternhagen) with him. But Mrs. Carmody stands in their way, ordering her followers to destroy the sinners. Instead, Ollie takes dead aim, shoots and kills Carmody with two quick bullets to the stomach and head. The mob regains its sanity – momentarily – and David and his entourage escape into the mist. Budd and Ollie don’t make it, but everyone else piles into David’s 4X4 and drives off for parts unknown. Along the road they pass various overturned vehicles with corpses strewn everywhere and are briefly confronted by a multi-legged creature looking like a reject from The War of the Worlds that ironically does them no harm.
Given the immediacy of the situation and the obviousness of their circumstances, David does not drive the survivors to safety but takes them back to his home where he discovers Stephanie’s petrified body attached with thick heavy webs to the gables. The car runs out of gas. Distraught, and hearing mysterious approaching sounds coming out of the mist, Amanda encourages David to take their lives with the four remaining bullets from Ollie’s gun, leaving David alone and at the mercy of the creatures. But surprise, surprise – it’s not the creatures advancing but the military coming upon David who has completely lost his mind and is on his knees inconsolably shrieking as two of the infantry look on.  
Those seeking some deeper meaning from The Mist should look for it elsewhere. The Mist is as convoluted as it remains inarticulate and poorly conceived. Adding religious debate to the mix doesn’t elevate the material beyond its slasher flick mentality. The radioactive bug thing has been done before. So has the porthole to another world – Jumanji, anyone? Throwing these two irreconcilable narrative threads together and invoking the name of Jesus periodically when the going gets tough doesn’t equate to a new horror/sci-fi hybrid with an intense religious subtext but instead results in a rather diluted ‘let’s throw everything at the screen and see what sticks’ balderdash. Hitchcock used to say that the duration of any movie should never outlast the tolerance of one’s backside going numb. 

I’ll go Hitch’ one further and say that in The Mist’s case the 126 minutes far outstays its welcome - not by being a real tushy-cruncher but a garrulous waste of time by how many times I had to look at my watch to recognize that, in fact, the minutes were passing. Worse Darabont is completely disengaged from his material, his chronic ennui manifesting itself in frequent fades to black whenever he seems unable or unwilling to provide any sort of cohesive link between disjointed scenes. I would not expect this from a first year film student with absolutely no talent or visual flair, much less a seasoned pro like Darabont.  
This leaves the heavy lifting to the cast who are – thankfully – mostly up to the chore of it. Thomas Jane gives us a variation on his soulful/doleful ‘I hate being in these situations’ quiet man/tough guy. We’ve seen Jane do this before, so it’s not all that great a stretch for him to do it again. But it works, superficially at least. The original intent was to have Laurie Holden get all hot and heavy with Jane who does, in fact, have a brief shirtless scene – basically, to change out of his blood-soaked duds after Norm has been Ginsu’ed in the stockroom by the squid run off from 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. Thankfully, that little romantic episode between Jane and Holden did not survive the final edit. The Mist is supposed to be a tale about good people reacting badly under duress. Gee, like we haven’t seen that one before. But Darabont is unable to dredge up any morality or ‘message’ to his madness. 

In the end, The Mist is just a less-than-serviceable bloody mess, gutted of its chills and made ridiculous by Darabont’s inability to concentrate on anything in between the giant alien and ancient sea creature/bug attacks. Somewhere beneath all this nonsense I suspect is a parable for modern day man having lost his way and seeking redemption from a vengeful God who, at least according to this whale of a tale, just doesn’t seem to give a damn one way or the other. Badly done! Very badly done!
The Mist on Blu-ray is far more promising than the movie itself. We get two versions; color and Darabont’s preferred B&W. The color version suffers from some initial over-saturation. Flesh is too red by day and piggy pink by night. Everything is quite clean, however, and detail is solid too. Rohn Schmidt’s handheld camera work never allows us to concentrate on anything for very long, but everything looks quite crisp with good contrast to boot. The B&W version is an interesting anomaly. Darabont wanted to release The Mist theatrically in B&W. It didn’t happen and viewing the movie in its monochromatic format doesn’t heighten one’s appreciation for the subject matter – it just looks like Darabont is overreaching to recreate the essential paranoia of a standard B-budget sci-fi movie from the 1950’s, albeit without any of that decade’s flair for stylish, brooding and moody production values and thematic thrills/chills. All of the aforementioned descriptors carry over to the B&W version: crisp, solidly contrasted and with a realistic smattering of film grain.
You’re going to hear some impressive surround from the DTS 5.1 lossless audio. Prepare to have your subwoofer go into overdrive periodically. Like the gimmick of 3D, sound folio should always be used in service of the visuals, not as an excuse to jolt the viewer out of his/her complacency over what is not being entirely realized on the screen. Extras?  Frank Darabont and producer Denise Huth provide an audio commentary. Darabont’s a good talker and overpowers Huth. He explains a lot but apologizes very little. Nothing he says makes the movie more entertaining.  His frequent reference to Rod Serling and The Twilight Zone reminds the viewer just how pedestrian The Mist is.
We also get eight deleted/extended scenes totally just under 15 minutes; a conversation with Stephen King and Darabont (12 min.) nearly 40 minutes on the making of the movie, and, nearly 30 minutes of comparative break downs of the CGI sequences and SFX. There’s also a perfunctory tribute to movie poster artist extraordinaire, Drew Struzan that runs barely 7 minutes and three ‘breakdowns’ of specific sequences from the movie, running 10 min. Given Struzan’s illustrious career, this gloss over piece is frankly an insult. Finally, we get three trailers for the movie that effectively capture its’ essence so astutely described by the late Roger Ebert as a flick about “horrible things pouncing on people.” In general I never favored Mr. Ebert’s comments, but this time he has really hit the nail on its head – pun intended! 
Aside: I am always amazed when directors promote the fact that their feature was made on a shoestring budget, then spend money as though it were water to produce such lavish extras for the DVD/Blu-ray release when that money could have, and in fact should have, been spent on improving the actual product – namely, the movie itself. Enough said. You know exactly where I stand with The Mist. It missed – completely!
FILM RATING (out of 5 – 5 being the best)
0
VIDEO/AUDIO
4.5
EXTRAS

4  

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