I've been a big Stephen King fan for years (a habit I picked up from my Mom) and I've been looking forward to an adaptation of this one for a long time. It's one of King's best short works, suspenseful and rich in nightmare fodder, a great example of the kind of stories he does best: in which madness and terror (here in the form of an extra-dimensional monster-spawning fog) are unleashed into the unsuspecting normal everyday world of suburban Maine.
Frank Darabont would seem like a perfect choice for this material. Even though his first three movies were earnest and old-fashioned (I'm assuming - like most people I never saw The Majestic) his early career was as screenwriter on Nightmare on Elm Street 3 (the good sequel) and the remake of The Blob. So he's a seasoned director with a background in horror and Stephen King, the movie should have been great, right?
The first problem with the movie is a certain self-importance that you probably get after your first couple of Academy Award nominations. The Mist should have been a fast-paced, nasty little monster movie, and to a great degree, it is. But Darabont falls into the Rod Serling trap - not content to just let his audience have fun, he tries to draw the deeper meaning out of his material. Again, not something I want to dissuade filmmakers from doing, but it weighs the film down a touch more than it should. Additionally, Darabont should have taken a page from the Paul Greengrass school and made his crowd scenes a little more chaotic and noisy. The crowd in this supermarket are pretty quiet and well-disciplined for a group who just popped out to get some soup for dinner and find themselves suddenly facing Cthulhu's spawn.
And then there's the ending... (SPOILERS).
Basically, the hero, David Drayton (Thomas Jane) shoots his friends and son in order to spare them the horror of being eaten by monsters, only to have the U.S. Army show up thirty seconds later as the Mist retreats. Darabont has altered King's original open-ended conclusion in order to end on a more significant, emotional note, a sort of Shyamalanesque sucker punch. It sort of works on an intellectual level and it connects to Darabont's other movies - basically, Darabont is telling his audience not to give up or give in to despair because hope could be right around the corner. But since this concept hasn't been firmly established earlier in the film, it doesn't have the impact he wants it to. I don't want to say the ending is a failure, but I don't think it really works, either. When you shoot a cute little kid in the head in a mainstream American movie, you better make damn sure you do it right.
All that said, I still thoroughly enjoyed this one. The monsters are nicely Lovecraftian, Darabont gets good work from his cast, including Marcia Gay Harden as the almost unplayable Red State villainess; and the waking-nightmare quality of King's underlying story comes through. Darabont hit a solid double with this one, I was just hoping for a home run.