'The Mist' lifts too soon for true terror

Hollywood has gone time after time to the Stephen King library for adaptations of his work. But not without some risk. Making films based on his novels and novellas can be a roll of the dice. "The Mist," is a good example.

The movie begins with a solid premise: There's been an electrical storm that sends David Drayton (Thomas Jane), his son, Billy (Nathan Gamble), and his wife down into the basement of their Maine home. The next morning they assess the damage: trees blown down, the front yard littered with debris. Billy, who has run down to the boat house, notices a dense, white mist coming over the mountains and across the bay.

Only mildly curious, assuming it is part of the weather, David and Billy drive into town for supplies. On their way they see caravans of military vehicles passing at high speed, headed toward the mountains. While they are shopping at the food mart, they notice that a fog has crept in, obscuring everything. Suddenly a man comes running out of the mist, nose bleeding, pointing behind him. Something knocked him down; something is out there.

For makers of horror films there is a crossroads moment. Think of it as the "Jaws" paradigm. The question is: how much of the "it" to reveal to the audience and when? The genius of the film "Jaws" was that Spielberg kept the shark below the water line for more than half of the film. All that was shown was a dorsal fin that would slowly break the surface, glide toward a crowded beach and then disappear. It's a technique that has been used in film after film to great effect if delivered with restraint and finesse on the part of the filmmakers.

Less is always more. And when the moment arrives and the "thing" revealed, it has to be done in such a way as to heighten the tension and fear that has already been instilled. This is the artistry of making good horror films. It's also the point where many movies become campy or simply dumb.

Every horror film involves the supernatural. In other words, the natural laws that define our world are bent, often confirming the latent suspicions of the audience. The dead can rise. Houses are haunted. Inanimate objects can become animate. Spirits walk among us. Things go bump in the night. The Ouija board can tell the future. The seance can bring back Uncle Jack.

And all of this is compounded by our genetic imprinting regarding our fear of the dark &

something our ancestors learned early on. Leave the cave at your own peril.

In the case of "The Mist," the supernatural involves whatever is out there, obscured by the fog. Initially, the white cloud enveloping everything has a high creep factor. But what is disappointing about the film is that the "something" in the mist is shown far too soon, instantly robbing the movie of its only source of suspense and potential terror.

As it turns out, the domestic ET is not scary. Lethal, maybe, but not scary. Had the townies been hold up in a gun store, they could have made short work of the critters.

"The Mist" is also a container movie, meaning that most of it takes place in a confined space &

inside of a food mart, with a potpourri of locals. Claustrophobia can add a great deal to a good horror film. Unfortunately, little use is made of this cinematic device. Instead, the film relies on interminable dialogue, led by a Mrs. Carmody (Marcia Gay Harden), an apocalyptic wing nut who does her best to convince the captive congregation that the end times have come. She's actually scarier than what's outside the pane glass windows.

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