The Mist

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Stephen King’s entertaining stories have probably been ruined by movies more than any other author’s, so it is a rare pleasure that 2007 should see not one but two successful adaptations: “1408” and now “The Mist,” a scary-fun horror flick that doesn’t skimp on the thrills or the mayhem but doesn’t completely wallow in violence, either.

Another nice surprise is that it was adapted and directed by Frank Darabont, whose previous King films were the syrupy kind — “Shawshank Redemption” and “The Green Mile” — and who hasn’t made a film at all since 2001’s “The Majestic.”

“The Mist” begins with a terrible storm in rural Maine (is there any other kind of Maine?) that downs trees and knocks out the electricity. The next day, a strange mist is seen coming in off the lake, and while a few dozen locals are buying supplies at the grocery store, a bloody-faced old man comes running in screaming, “Something is in the mist!”

He ain’t whistlin’ Dixie, either. In a very satisfying turn of events, several of the people in the besieged grocery store actually see what’s in the mist firsthand (one of them, predictably, does not live to tell the tale) and can accurately warn the others. The de facto leader, an artist and family man named David Drayton (Thomas Jane), insists they need to board up the store’s front windows before the whatever-it-is tries to break through. But he faces opposition from Brent Norton (Andre Braugher), his prickly next-door neighbor and a lawyer who won’t believe there’s any creature in the mist until he sees it with his own two eyes.

There is also Mrs. Carmody (Marcia Gay Harden), a religious fanatic who takes all these signs and wonders as irrefutable evidence of the impending apocalypse. As time passes in the supermarket (like “1408,” this story is set almost entirely in one location), her ravings start to gain traction among people who have now seen the mist-dwelling things for themselves and are terrified of what they mean. People get crazier and crazier and start to embrace escape plans that are foolhardy or suicidal. “You scare people badly enough, you can get them to do anything,” says the bloody-faced old man, Dan (Jeffrey DeMunn), voicing what could be seen as some of the film’s commentary on modern politics.

Watching the film — caught up in it, enjoying nearly every minute — I thought often of the classic “Twilight Zone” episode called “The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street,” where friendly suburbanites are whipped into a panic by the fear that one of them may be an alien. In “The Mist,” no one in the grocery store is thought to be in league with whatever’s out there. But the idea that we have more to fear from each other than from monsters is an underlying theme.

These people actually have quite a bit to fear from the monsters, too, and that fact is horrifically made manifest by frequent scary attacks from the outside. Darabont isn’t afraid to show us what everyone’s so afraid of, yet he manages to save some surprises for later as well. The explanation for the creatures’ existence is officially summed up in about two lines of almost-thrown-away dialogue — perfunctory at best, and that’s all the film needs. What do you want, a biology class?

There are inevitably some slower moments as the film pauses to regroup and explore some lesser relationships such as that between a young soldier (Sam Witwer) stationed nearby and the store’s cashier (Alexa Davalos). There are far more people trapped in the store than the story actually needs, so a lot of them remain anonymous and voiceless, with colorful performers like Frances Sternhagen (as an old lady) and Toby Jones (as a store manager with sharpshooter skills) adding flavor. But maybe “flavor” is an unfortunate choice of words, considering the fate some of the characters meet.

B+ (2 hrs., 7 min.; R, a lot of harsh profanity, plenty of horror violence and some blood.)

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