The Mist

Interesting fact: “Mist” in German, means “crap.” Luckily, unlike many a Stephen King adaptation, this one is anything but.

The Mist is a loving tribute to the 60s creature feature, with Frank Darabount (who directed the King-lyThe Green Mile/The Shawshank Redemption) helming a character-driven insider-outsider dynamic set in Maine (of course) against the backdrop of a grocery store, of all places.

Clean up in aisle 3!

While the tentacles in the promotional collateral betray a more nautical feel, it’s actually Lovecraftian pterodactyl thing-ies that scare the bejeezus out of the townsfolk (some of them, that is. There’s a fire and brimstone preacher lady, played by Marcia Gay Harden, who won’t be swayed and is determined to usher in Armageddon).

The plot is full-on 60s sci fi: not only are there weird and wonderful creatures, there is a strange and secret military experiment being conducted. Camo trucks are driving through town by the dozens. What in god’s name is going on? This is compounded by a strange and bizarre, not to mention scary, weather system, enough to make Al Roker crap his pants (Google that and “White House” if you want some unpleasant reading).

The system is hiding the aforementioned creatures, and dueling groups of townsfolk hunker down in the store, using their wits to do battle with one another, and the creatures, who reproduce themselves by bursting forth smaller creatures from human cocoon cavities, a la Alien. Grossly good stuff.

Toby Jones is once again excellent as the grocery manager, and unlikely hero, along with the more stoic doting dad Thomas Jane. Andre Braugher (Brooklyn Nine-Nine) is well-cast in the thankless role of resident skeptic/creature luncheon meat.

Stephen King’s vision is both cynical and revelatory, taking potshots at pomo and religious thinking alike.

The Mist, however, has an ending that is seriously downbeat, and would be even by the very dour 70s. Some viewers take umbrage with what they see as a narrative cop out, but it actually adds to the gritty nihilism not too dissimilar from Night of the Living Dead.

***1/2 (out of 5)

[Check out our podcast of The Mist]

Gerald’s Game

The characters jokingly refer to it as “death by misadventure,” and what happens (or maybe, as it turns out, doesn’t even happen at all) to two cottage-goers on a romantic weekend getaway forms the basis of Gerald’s Game, a scary, ambitious and at times confusing effort from Mike Flanagan (Hush/Oculus).

Bruce Greenwood stars as titular Gerald (a square-jaw spitting image of one of those out-of-home Viagra commercials), a husband in a stale, on-the-rocks marriage who wants to introduce some light bondage to wife, Jessie (the omnipresent, IMDb credit-filler, Carla Gugino, incredibly effective here).

The setup is designed to be something very predictable…so viewers unfamiliar with the 1992 Stephen King suspense novel on which this was based, will find Gerald’s Game especially satisfying as it takes a turn so sharp, it might as well be a hot pursuit in a Live PD episode.

The setting is a lush weekend getaway in Alabama, with a sprawling seaside vacation home complete with a surly dog (yes, Cujo is referenced).

After some handcuff-assisted foreplay with Jessie, Gerald stiffens (not like that) and keels over from a heart attack leaving the missus chained to the bed like a half-Procrustes. What’s a gal to do, especially with a phone too far out of reach?

The rest of Gerald’s Game is all about that very scenario, a terrifying survivalist exercise replete with flashbacks, hallucinations and PTSD that is endlessly fascinating, and much more than the flimsily sketched out premise on Netflix would indicate. There’s even a phantasmagorical bogeyman (or is he very grounded in reality?)

With the ending, however, it sucks that Mike Flanagan seemed to wrap too literal a bow around what was a metaphorical gift of a film, leading to a wholly unsatisfying “this is how the pieces fit together, see!” climax.

Still, while not the best King adaptation, Gerald’s Game is up there (let’s say, Top 10ish). And even the difficult-to-please author had nice things to say. And he’s correct.

***3/4 (out of 5)