Do you have any hope at all in humanity?

I haven't read any of Stephen King's books or stories, but I have learned two things from his movies. He possesses phenomenal insight into the human mind, and he is a freak. The Mist proves both points fully with a simple story: a mist engulfs a small New England town, and a few dozen of its denizens are isolated in a grocery store, forced to deal with enemies both outside and inside the store, both strange and familiar.

The best and brilliant parts of The Mist are the explorations into the psyche of the various trapped townsfolk. If someone's character is truly exposed when under pressure, then the extreme circumstances of this movie strip souls down to their essences, with frightening results. There are heroes and villains, leaders and followers, stalwarts and cowards. In previous uses of King's source material, writer/director Frank Darabont burrowed into the heart of hope in The Shawshank Redemption and delved into faith and the supernatural with The Green Mile. Both movies placed normal people into extreme circumstances, and did so exceptionally well. In that general thematic regard, Mist is similar to those two excellent films. More specifically though, it varies greatly, stressing the negative aspects of humanity rather than positive traits. Along the way, plenty of complex issues arise, and they are most frequently addressed with a rough, dull blade that gashes boldly through the moral fiber of civilization. The results are rarely pretty, but always compelling.

Lest you think this is a philosophical art house movie, let it be known that as a horror flick, independent of any deeper meaning, Mist consistently entertains, with a handful of superb knuckle-whitening scenes enhanced by an excellent cast. But a dark decision in the final act makes it impossible for even the most casual moviegoer to completely ignore the thick subtext of King and Darabont.

What prevents The Mist from being a great movie is the frayed nature of that subtext. While the story is rife with interesting points, the commentary fails to coagulate into a comprehensible bigger picture. In a sense though, the fractured themes better befit such a moody picture, one that strikes its audience at many levels, leaving the mind spinning in a mist of its own.

Bottom Line: 7 of 10 for a movie far smarter and deeper than the glut of recent horror releases.

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