In The Mist, a few dozen townspeople are trapped in a Maine grocery store enveloped in a thick fog which is inhabited by mysterious, deadly creatures, and order dissolves at roughly the same rate as the hope of rescue. Conceptually, the film’s central interest in humanity as its own biggest enemy is intriguing (á la The Twilight Zone’s “The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street”), but its expression of that theme is somewhat ham-fisted. Marcia Gay Harden plays Mrs. Carmody, a doomsday prophet who builds a dangerously devout congregation in the store as the situation deteriorates. Cartoonish religious zealots are a familiar sight in Stephen King stories, and Carmody is over-the-top even by King standards, but the folly of her ways is not trusted to be self-evident. Among the store’s minority of rational protagonists, great swaths of dialogue are devoted to dismantling the Bush-era fear-mongering Carmody represents, and that sanctimonious liberal grandstanding is no less off-putting than the crazy Old Testament straw man it refutes.
The Mist fares better mining horror more directly from its namesake, whose atmosphere of quiet dread is quite effective, especially when our protagonists venture out of the store and into the unknown. Also, the many creatures on offer pack some fun and frightening surprises, even if the CGI that powers them is a bit hokey. The ending, which improves on King’s original novella, is a magnificent gut punch of a sort rarely authorized by studio execs. It’s arguably worth the price of admission all by itself.