dir: Frank Darabont
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I watched this flick last night, and this morning, I made my way to work through a thick, chilling mist. I have to admit, for a second, I wondered what horrors the mist might hold for me.
The Mist is one of those rarest of rare movies: something based on the works of Stephen King that doesn’t suck completely and utterly. Yeah, sure, people point out The Shining, Misery, Shawshank, Green Mile, Christine and that’s about it, as a way of saying that one of the world’s most prolific horror writers has had flicks translate well from their book origins.
Bullshit, I say, to them. For every Shawshank, there’s almost ten flops that make you want to tear your eyeballs out based on some scrap of cocktail napkin that the legendary crank hack scrawled something onto.
To be fair, I started looking through all the gems he’s had a hand or toe in, and there were plenty of other flicks that don’t suck completely that he’s been involved in.
Then again, there’s still Dreamcatcher.
Look, let’s just agree that not all of King’s stuff has translated well to the big or small screen, but then again, who’s stuff always does? Even ‘serious’ authors like Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Louis de Bernieres have works that have sucked upon transformation into a film “property”, sucked in ways that make you want to just die, already.
Not that I can prove this scientifically, but the movies adapted from King’s short stories tend to have a better track record, and The Mist is just such a beast.
A nasty storm hits a small, hokey little town in Maine. There’s some damage, trees fall down, hair gets mussed. Whilst the residents are still picking up the pieces, a thick mist rolls in.
David Drayton (Thomas Jane) and his son Billy (Nathan Gamble) travel to the supermarket to get some post-storm supplies, and find themselves, along with a bunch of other people, trapped in the store. They’re trapped because there are… things… in the mist.
At first they have no idea what’s going on. In fact, no-one really knows for most of the flick’s duration as to what’s going on, which enhances the terror-filled scenario nicely. Being Americans, and this having been made recently, of course this kind of disaster scenario has to point to the two biggest issues everyone wishes Hollywood would just shut the fuck up about: 9/11 and the War on Terror. It’s squeezed through a unique filter which even brings up the post-Hurricane Katrina and Red State / Blue State culture wars bullshit that makes Rupert Murdoch a very wealthy man.
It’s handled remarkably well: it’s the human dynamics I’m referring to. When stuff actually starts coming out of the mist, it’s not so good, in fact, it’s pretty silly.
But the human on human action, now therein lies the rub.
In a disaster-type situation, in the specifically American context, what can we rightly expect? Well, we get those who come to the fore, try to lead and try to help the people around them, which would cover our main character David. Around him cluster some reasonable people who are also deathly afraid of what’s outside, but are sheep who can’t really think for themselves.
Then there are the doubters who don’t believe the situation is really that bad, and that the threat of monsters is just hype, lies and hysteria. They’re either right or they're just fodder for the monsters just waiting to be ripped apart.
Around them cluster an ever-growing array of people convinced this is the End of Days: as in that God’s judgement is coming down from above and killing all the sinners. And that, in order to save themselves, sacrifices must be made to appease an Angry God.
Mrs Carmody (Marcia Gay Harden) comes to believe that she is a conduit to God’s will, and that a situation like this, where a hundred or so people are under siege in a supermarket as monstrous creatures close in on them, is the perfect opportunity for her to get some payback on the kinds of people she feels have slighted her throughout her miserable life.
Yes, this is a monster film with creatures of unknown provenance threaten to chomp Our Heroes and their hangers-on. And some of the monsters, especially later on in the flick, are pretty scary. But nothing is as scary as the venomous Carmody.
She whips her ever-growing number of supporters into an Old Testament fury as they become bent on expiation, or blood sacrifice, as a way of saving themselves. The power she has over them they themselves give up to her, since they’re terrified, confused and clearly stupid. And they too know the pleasure of making themselves feel better by beating on those weaker and less popular than themselves.
The irony for me, considering that this is a horror flick, is that the appearance of the monsters actually killed the terror-filled mood for me. Once they start to appear, and there’s no rhyme or reason to their appearance or their existence, since, in most cases, they’re just generic evil monsters: Evil CGI flying bugs, evil CGI super-spiders and evil CGI pterodactyl-buzzards. And maybe some tentacley thing, I’m not sure, since we never find out what killed the poor shelf-stacking bagboy.
They are not even remotely as scary as Carmody and the certainty on the faces of her faithful devotees, people led so easily to violence and murder that you despair of humanity in its entirety. Later on there are monsters more than scary enough, because they’re half seen but massive and genuinely monstrous. There is even one creature depicted that is so massive, and so alien that it is simultaneously awe-inspiring and enough to drive you to despair. But our real horror is reserved for the group of people who actually think the Old Testament is a survival guide for inexplicable circumstances. Especially the bit about Abraham sacrificing his son.
As the lead, Thomas Jane is wooden and noble, acting like he’s Jimmy Stewart and Gregory Peck all rolled into one, in a character so rigid and upright that the rod up his arse must have a rod up its arse. He’s appropriate to the role. I guess. But the real payoff to his character, which tries to balance his desire to save his son from the horrors in the mist, and his desire to help other people, comes from the ending which is of such unremitting cruel irony that I’m not even going to allude to it for fear of spoiling it. Actually, I did just allude to it. Let’s leave it at that.
Everyone else doesn’t really matter, but they perversely do great work, especially Toby Jones as an aged bagboy who comes into his own with a gun in his hand. The film does a great job of capturing and projecting the feeling that it aims for onto the protagonists and the audience. The mood stuff, the growing realisation that, to quote the Nick Cave song, People They Ain’t No Good, the mist itself as a palpable enemy, and that incredible ending all cohere to make this one of the better horror flicks I’ve had the privilege to see in a donkey’s age.
It’s a thinly veiled comment on the times, and as such has a lot to say about what people are capable of doing when they’re afraid, when they’re angry, and when they’re stupid. But it most scathingly represents what happens when people give in to hopelessness and cannot imagine a way out of their seemingly impossible circumstances. It’s enough to make you weep black tears of interdimensional despair.
8 times the ending to this flick is just… nasty out of 10
“You don't have much faith in humanity, do you?”
- “None whatsoever.”
“I can't accept that. People are basically good; decent. My god, David, we're a civilised society.”
- “Sure, as long as the machines are working and you can dial 911. But you take those things away, you throw people in the dark, you scare the shit out of them - no more rules.” – The Mist