Stephen King’s The Mist

| November 19, 2007

For a movie that opens with an enormous birch tree falling through its main character’s picture window, The Mist is a subtle piece of work. Directed by Frank Darabont from a script he adapted from Stephen King’s novella of the same name, The Mist is first and foremost a horror film. What lifts it slightly above its genre is the belief that no monster is more menacing than man.
Rising early after a violent thunderstorm has ravaged his lakeside home in rural Maine, David Drayton (Thomas Jane) notices, in addition to his lack of electricity and broken window, a strange mist rolling across the water. Jane’s facial muscles betray unspeakable things not covered by his homeowner’s insurance, but in true horror movie fashion he loads his son (Nathan Gamble) and swank Manhattan neighbor (Andre Braugher) into his Land Cruiser and heads into town to fetch supplies. His wife stays at home with a docile smile and her garden shears.
The mist isn’t far behind David, and no sooner do he and his passengers arrive at the town grocery store than a thick white fog rubs its muzzle against the market’s plate-glass windows. A bloodied local (Jeffrey DeMunn) racing in with news of “something in the mist!” cues up the creepy clash to come.
With unlucky townspeople picked off by giant poison-spewing tentacles and buzzards right out of the Cretaceous, The Mist matches its B-movie antecedents splat for splat. There is even a makeout scene followed by two gruesome teenage deaths. Perhaps Darabont should have been a pollster, however, because the director is much more interested in the horror of group dynamics. As the shoppers form factions in their fear, the practical group, led by David and Amanda (Laurie Holden), a nubile elementary school teacher who takes a shine to Drayton and his son, find themselves up against not just rampaging monsters but religious zealots. The aliens close in, and town Nostradamus Mrs. Carmody (played with thick-waisted, bible thumping glee by Marcia Gay Harden) whips the more credulous shoppers into a fetishistic frenzy.
“It’s obvious she’s nuts,” says Amanda of Mrs. Carmody as the harridan drops brimstone in another aisle of the store. Her wary comrades aren’t so sure. “The flakier people get, the better she’s gonna look,” says Ollie (Toby Jones), a supermarket manager preternaturally sage in all things but career choice. Turn off people’s electricity and collective grip on reality, warns David, and “see how primitive they get.” Sure enough, it isn’t long before Mrs. Carmody and her supporters hit upon human sacrifice as the only means of taming the noxious beasts, and David and his friends plan their escape.
A veteran of the Stephen King story empire, Frank Darabont is clearly at ease with the material. After The Shawshank Redemption and The Green Mile, the director seems happy to helm a smaller, scrappier film. The movie’s budget was $17 million, and while suitably frightening, the film’s computer-generated monsters pale in comparison with some of the digital effects Hollywood had been pumping out of late. Without being flashy or intrusive, Rohn Schmidt’s cinematography knows how deliver some nasty thrills.
Through it all, however, the movie’s focus is on the human reaction to unexplainable adversity. “People are basically good,” says Amanda during the supermarket siege, but the film’s ending, which Darabont rewrote from King’s ambiguous closing chapter, is a masterpiece of faithless sleight of hand. As a competent motion picture, The Mist is solid entertainment for a species of technicians. For those seeking aesthetic virtue, it’s so much smoke.

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